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Wearable Tech and Location Accuracy Now a Reality

Wednesday, May 28th 2014
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Summary:

We’ve seen the increase in popularity of wearable devices such as FitBit and Nike Fuelband. But do these devices have the positional accuracy expected by today’s high tech consumer?  Directions Magazine’s editor in chief, Joe Francica, spoke with executives from OriginGPS and CSR to find out more about the direction “wearables” are heading.

Directions Magazine(DM): The move to “wearables” is accelerating. What do you see as the market opportunity for a high accuracy GPS device versus what we see today, which appear to be no more than pedometers with very low location accuracy?

Ilya Divinsky, vice president of research and development, OriginGPS: The “first generation” of wearable devices was merely an extension of the smartphone (via Bluetooth) as far as location is concerned.  We believe that that the market opportunity is for fully autonomous products, non-smartphone related. In addition, for well-being and sports, the current accuracy (up to 5% deviation) may simply not be good enough.

David Borison, senior director for product marketing and location marketing, CSR: We see the “wearables” market being at a major inflection point. The next generations of wearables are evolving into devices that not only track a particular activity but also the types of activities over a 24-hour period. The holistic approach allows people to monitor and modify behavior toward a healthier lifestyle. Information obtained by the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) augmented with terrestrial radio and inertial technologies can help provide richness of integrated information to achieve this goal.

DM: Can you explain in detail “Push to Fix” (PtF) technology?

Divinsky: PtF is a receiver power-saving operating mode that is best suited for applications that require infrequent navigation solutions. In this mode the module is mostly in a “hibernate” state (saving current) and is waking up for satellite data refresh in fixed periods of time. PtF period can be anywhere between 10 seconds to 2 hours. During fix trial module will stay in Full Power state until good position solution is estimated or pre-configured timeout for it has expired.

Borison: PtF is a mode in which we achieve a low average power by switching on when needed.  The chip will check the level of accuracy before sending out a location. Unless a certain high level of accuracy is met, the device will continue to search for satellites. Advanced acquisition and tracking algorithms compounded with a powerful on chip digital signal processor (DSP) reduce the time it takes to get a fix.

DM: Time to first fix and low battery power create advantages. How do they compare with the technology available only one year ago and how much better do you expect it to be within 18 months?

Divinsky:Throughout last year, most efforts were concentrated on miniaturization without compromising on performance. Our modules are establishing a class of position solutions that are so small that they reduce board space constraints for wearable devices’ architects.

Time to first fix has no path for further improvement, since today’s minimal values are dictated by satellite signal properties.

Looking forward, we expect further reduction in power consumption, fusion with motion sensors and augmentation with other wireless technologies to create indoor tracking.

Borison: More intelligent low power modes have been developed over the past 12 months along with the introduction of a multi constellation (GNSS) system. Power and performance improvements are constantly being made with newer software and next generation receiver radios.

DM: How are you solving the dense urban and low signal area problems? Can you explain in more detail how the combination of CSR and OriginGPS address this?

Divinsky:While in dense urban areas, wearables are very often subjected to marginal GPS signal conditions. Those signals, when non-blocked while approaching the receiver, are either attenuated or reflected from buildings, creating a multi-path effect that impacts accuracy. OriginGPS’ miniaturizing technology emphasizes keeping sensitivity at its maximum, so that combined with CSR proprietary methods of opportunistic tracking at low signal, rapid re-acquisition after blockage and a multi-path mitigation software algorithm enable tracking at places not available for satellite navigation in the past, or higher accuracy where it was a great issue before. With OriginGPS modules powering location solutions in wearable devices, low signal areas are becoming “rare species.”      

Borison: Several consumer products now use GLONASS and assisted-GLONASS (A-GLONASS) measurements to improve coverage and accuracy of GPS receivers. We refer to such combo receivers as GNSS receivers here. In dense urban canyons, GLONASS measurements help to improve availability and accuracy of a position solution.

SiRFstar devices provide immunity to interference, cross-correlation, and multipath impairments to achieve very high sensitivity needed for dense urban canyons and low signal conditions

DM: Size of the chipset is key, as well. What markets or submarkets of wearable will you address, today or in the future?

Divinsky:  Smart glasses and well-being/fitbits currently have no GPS modules but we believe that in the future they should have. Also, most smartwatches and digital cameras do not yet have GPS features. In the near future we believe it will become a standard in the industry. Of note, smartwatches and cameras that already have GPS capabilities continue to decrease in size, so OriginGPS will facilitate the ever-growing need for miniaturization.

Borison: Wearable devices will need to be ergonomically designed to be worn by users with comfort and ease. This will demand a small size of the platform and the battery. The small size of the location device with the ease of integration into wearable specific platforms will enable innovative new designs to incorporate added functionality to expand the health and fitness use cases.


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