Sam Liang may not be a household name, but you likely rely on what he created each and every day, especially if you use Google mobile maps. Back in 2006 Liang began working on Google’s geolocation project, and his team was the mastermind behind the little blue dot that shows where you are on the map.
Fast forward six years and Liang owns Alohar Mobile, and one of their first projects: a more accurate blue dot that uses less of your device’s battery. His goal: create an “ambient” location tracking technology.
How Does It Work?
Current GPS tracking technology uses the GPS receiver built in to the phone and triangulates your position using Wi-Fi hot spots. Alohar’s new technology uses additional sensors and algorithms in addition to the current method, as well as other methods Liang is being hush-hush about. He will say it relys on the accelerometer and compass, as well as statistical modeling to pinpoint “where you most likely are.”
This functions in almost the same way as car navigation apps. The logic: you are likely in a car and thus must be on a road. Even if the GPS receiver isn’t locating you as being precisely on a road, the algorithms built in will “snap” your GPS location by default. This is the idea behind Alohar but uses quite a bit more data to determine your precise location. For example, if it senses you are walking based on the consistently slow speed you are traveling, it will place you on a sidewalk or inside a building rather than on a physical street. If the camera built in to your phone senses a hint of fluorescent light, it will place you indoors. If Alohar senses you’ve stopped moving, the app will shut down the GPS until you begin moving again, which is the key to its low battery consumption.
Liang’s goal is to create an accurate geolocation app by making the location data available all the time without draining the battery. The possibilities of this technology are pretty amazing. In March during the Launch conference, Liang demonstrated that an app that’s always running can determine if the phone’s owner has been in a car accident, sending an automatic emergency alert similar to Onstar. A help button could be incorporated to the device for the user to press if they were having some sort of medical emergency, sending paramedics GPS location data immediately. Liang says that today’s mobile GPS isn’t precise enough to send emergency personnel to the person’s exact location. Alohar is the answer in this type of situation as it has the power to locate people precisely.
Alohar uses a large database of locations, and PlaceMe (Alohar’s proof-of-concept app) uses this database to track you constantly. The app compiles a list of places you frequent, also tracking how long you are there. It may seem a bit much, but definitely comes in handy when you want to meet a friend at that coffee bar you visited last week but can’t remember where it was.
Is It For You?
Some people might not find this type of GPS tracking useful, but for camera or note-taking apps that already geotag your location on the go, these tags will become more accurate. PlaceMe does affect battery life as it is so new – using a bit of battery on an iPhone 4, while on an Android, using so much it is barely useable. Liang promises updates to correct this for both iOS and Android. If you are concerned about privacy, Liang points out that although their servers record your entire route, the data is tagged using a hash of your device’s hardware ID rather than personal information.
Liang’s ultimate goal is to have this GPS location technology in the hands of developers who might assist in improving PlaceMe’s performance. His dreams of the potential use of this technology – apps that learn what food you prefer based off the list of restaurants you frequent, or an ambient fitness app that can tell how long you’ve walked or jogged for. He says that over 600 developers have registered to take the app for a test drive as the app gives free use of the technology library as well as use of the service for experimental apps. Eventually a fee will be charged, but until then, give it a try and see if it can help you in your daily life.