Finland team uses Earth's magnetic field for phone indoor positioning system

Jul 10, 2012 by Nancy Owano report

(Phys.org) -- Finland-based engineers have worked up a novel approach toward an indoor positioning system (IPS) inspired by the way certain animals--from homing pigeons to spiny lobsters--navigate their way with the help of cues that arise from local anomalies of the earth’s magnetic field. The researchers have formed a company with seed capital investment to commercialize their approach. Namely that approach has resulted in a smartphone app that uses magnetic fluctuations to map indoor locations. Aptly named IndoorAtlas, the company is a spinoff from their University of Oulu beginnings.

They now have a smartphone app that uses the Earth’s magnetic field to help people—in businesses and developers—that can help people tell exactly where they are. It can provide smartphone users a way to make use of indoor maps and can also provide developers with a toolbox for positioning-focused applications.

They authored a paper, “Ambient magnetic field-based indoor location technology - Bringing the compass to the next level,” that explains their notion that the earth’s magnetic field is not only a useful factor for animals but also for true navigation for modern-day applications.

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“Some animals, such as spiny lobsters, are not only able to detect the direction of the Earth's magnetic field, they can even sense their true position relative to their destination. This means these particular animals are able to derive positional information from local cues that arise from the local anomalies of the Earth's magnetic field.”

Likewise, they said, modern buildings with reinforced concrete and steel structures have unique, spatially-varying ambient magnetic fields that can be used for positioning, though on a far smaller spatial scale. They said that each building, floor and corridor creates a distinct magnetic field disturbance that can be measured to identify a location and generate a map.

“In principle, a non-uniform ambient magnetic field produces different magnetic observations, depending on the path taken through it. In IndoorAtlas' location technology, anomalies (fluctuations) of ambient magnetic fields are utilized in indoor positioning.”

Dr.Janne Haverinen, the head of the project, said both what they know about magnetic fields and what they saw in the smartphone marketplace combined to drive their product development. “When iPhone and Android phones arrived with built-in compasses, we realized that we could develop an innovative indoor navigation solution by applying our digital signal-processing expertise,” said Haverinen.

As such, New Scientist points out the interesting feature of this technology: Compasses don't normally work inside buildings because metallic structures disturb the 's magnetic field, while IndoorAtlas can make use of these disturbances to create a unique map within each building.

The company is offering a “toolbox” made of three components, Floor Plans, Map Creator, and an app creator using the company API. Before indoor positioning information can be used on a smartphone, developers need to collect information and overlay the information with a floor plan. They need to create an image of the location's floor plan and then walk through the location while collecting data. IndoorAtlas says their toolbox can create indoor location-awareness applications for a range of applications, such as to guide people inside shopping centers and airport terminals.

As for smartphone use, the technology is described as a software-only location system that requires nothing more than a smartphone with built-in sensors. No radio access points or other external hardware infrastructures are necessary. The accuracy in IndoorAtlas' technology in modern buildings ranges from 0.1 meter to two meters.

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User comments : 11

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kevinrtrs
1.3 / 5 (15) Jul 10, 2012
Some animals, such as spiny lobsters, are not only able to detect the direction of the Earth's magnetic field, they can even sense their true position relative to their destination. This means these particular animals are able to derive positional information from local cues that arise from the local anomalies of the Earth's magnetic field.


I just have to ask the perennial question on this: how exactly did this ability "evolve"?

As per usual there is no clear answer to this question since no one was there to observe such "evolution" occurring.

All that can be said about it is the usual speculation that satisfies no one and simply remains an irritation at best. It remains that evolutionists have to take it ON FAITH that this ability "evolved" since they cannot show/demonstrate how it could have occurred by chance with no help from intelligent outside interference.
ackzsel
4.3 / 5 (6) Jul 10, 2012
@kevinrtrs

I don't think they mentioned evolution in this article. They only claim that some present animals are able to detect magnetic fields, nothing about how that ability evolved. Please stay on topic. Animals ability in detecting magnetic fields is still under research and maybe you will find something about evolution in those studies to answer your questions.
antialias_physorg
3.9 / 5 (7) Jul 10, 2012
how exactly did this ability "evolve"?

Go look up "magnetotactic bacteria" (I know you won't because actually looking up information is anathema to saying "It can't be".)
There you will find possible mechanisms, evolutionary histories and uses for sensitivity to magnetic fields.

Wherever a gradient exists that will lead to food and/or further survival you can bet on it that sooner or later an organism will chance upon a sense to detect it.
Birger
5 / 5 (2) Jul 10, 2012
"Wherever a gradient exists that will lead to food and/or further survival you can bet on it that sooner or later an organism will chance upon a sense to detect it."

Other examples: hammerhead sharks and electric eels using electric fields to find prey.
Snakes using IR detectors to find prey.
Aryeh_Z
2.5 / 5 (2) Jul 10, 2012
I have a different question on this. What is this good for? Once someone has mapped an area, what will its use be? This technology might be useful for a robot but I can't think of how a person could use this. Also, I suspect that the magnetic fields would change over time.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 10, 2012
What is this good for?

Go into any largish building (university, library, government building, sports arena, airport, department store, ... ) and try to find your way around in it.
Not all buildings have good/ample signs - and not all signs are in your language.

Also, I suspect that the magnetic fields would change over time.

Why do you suspect this? (And why can't the maps be periodically updated if it did?)
gmurphy
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
Surely the magnetometer is scalar only?, it can only give an immediate reading of the current strength of it's local magnetic field. In order to accurately determine your location, you'd need to take a number of spatially distributed samples before you'd have any confidence in the accuracy of the localisation. Or this there something I'm not seeing?
renderist
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
The magnetometer is not scalar, otherwise it couldn't support compass apps.
PhotonX
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
I just have to ask the perennial question on this: how exactly did this ability "evolve"?

As per usual there is no clear answer to this question since no one was there to observe such "evolution" occurring.
Kevintard just can't resist gettin' in his evolution bitch-slapping, even when the first article search for the word is in his post. Jesus F. Christ, he just keeps getting worse.
InterestedAmateur
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
I have a different question on this. What is this good for?

Here's a couple of ideas:
1.Visually challenged people might like a device that could translate the map into oral instructions so they could navigate theie way through a large store such as Ikea.

2. Might be handy in a smoke filled store to find the exit.

Pretty sure they'd be a lot of possible commercial applications once people sat down and thought about it.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jul 11, 2012
such as Ikea.

Ikea is a bad example because you cannot navigate your way through them. Ikea stores are laid out in an (approximate) Hilbert curve and you have to follow it from beginning to end.

But there are certainly other applications. If nothing else you could have small security drones that flit through your building - or delivery robots in hospitals and the like using this to track their position.

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