In November 2013, Prima Research LLC announced two new patents for an invention that locates and tracks any radio frequency (RF) emitting device, such as a mobile phone, tablet, RFID tags, or computer, in any three-dimensional space (press release). The technology can be used to assure accuracy and precision of “indoor location-based systems” and is especially interesting because it tracks locations in 3D. Directions Magazine interviewed inventors Christopher Price and Gregory Beveridge about the invention and how it differs from existing indoor positioning solutions.
Directions Magazine (DM): The patents relate to better indoor locating. In particular, one patent covers locating radio frequency signals in 3D. Why is current locating only done in 2D? What needs to be done either in addition or differently to detect in 3D?
Christopher Price and Gregory Beveridge (CP/GB):The focus on traditional 2D indoor locating methods is because most prior applications (e.g., finding persons/cars/ships/planes during emergencies) are terrestrial and therefore plotted on a 2D map, adequate for most purposes in wide-open spaces. Using 2D methods to locate radio sources inside buildings is more difficult and less precise due, in part, to the general in-building unavailability of satellite GPS signals and an RF-hostile environment. During our multi-year search, we did not find any 3D prior-art indoor RF source locating methods. We then developed a novel 3D method that overcomes these 2D limitations, enabling device location with absolute boundaries between and among adjacent defined 3D spaces, and providing improved precision of location within a given space.
All possible physical arrangements of only three non-collocated “observation points” absolutely define only a two-dimensional array. In the Prima patented method, the modest incremental addition of only one receiver enables a basic 3D monitoring array. Specifically, the Prima 3D location platform consists of a minimum array of four synchronized receivers, a reference receiver and an associated processor arranged to locate RF sources in a defined space.
Since space can be alternatively viewed as an infinite “stack” of 2D area “slices,” the Prima 3D method also offers the same accuracy of boundaries and improved precision benefits for ordinary 2D area-based location services.
DM: What do you mean when you say the “observation points can be in motion”? Does that mean that a defined area, like the inside of a shipping container, might host receivers and be on the road while it detects motion inside? Can you offer a use case for such a scenario?
CP/GB:Relatively fixed receiver/processor “observation points” can also be installed on moving platforms such as shipping containers, cars and airplane cabins. One simple possible application would be a “mini-platform” that detects the presence of a mobile device in the front seat space of a moving car that, once detected during motion, could be used to indirectly inhibit (via the service provider) texting or other use by the driver.
DM: You are an intellectual property (idea) company and do not manufacture products based on your patents. So, when someone requests a “demo,” what do you show? You note in FAQ: “Prima Research LLC has an existing software-defined portable demonstration model that actually employs the same basic processor location engine used in a real system.”
CP/GB:The demonstration model provides a dynamic view of the Prima 3D location results for a single RF source icon that can be moved within and outside the virtual tetrahedron, on a computer screen. The demo uses the basic math algorithm that would reside in the processor.
Visualization of “observation points” and mobile device to be tracked using Prima Research’s new invention
DM: Because your system detects any RF producing device without any installation of software, all you really know about the device is its location, but not who owns it, etc. Does this raise or quell privacy concerns?
CP/GB: Even a general understanding of the Prima method should quell any possible concerns about communications privacy of individuals and their information. Our method can basically be viewed as anonymous locating and sampling. In a way, the Prima method is no different than being counted as part of a crowd-size estimate being made by someone with a mechanical “ticker” as anonymous individuals enter a building, room, or move around in a local space. Mobile devices do not transmit nor embed any direct (or coded) names, phone numbers, addresses or any other private information in the RF signal. The per-device unique digital sequence is also arbitrary from our perspective. The Prima method creates no means of associating that device with any private individual information whatsoever. Restrictions on this sort of data-matching are a matter of law and agreed-upon terms between service provider and each mobile device customer.
DM: The Q&A includes a question asking if Prima Research is a patent troll. The answer is no. How did the company raise funds to get this far? What is the business model going forward? Just licensing the various patents? Or something else?
CP/GB:The company is entirely funded by the contributions of the founding members. We’ve each invested substantial time and money to develop the method. We recognized early on that to further bring our vision forward would require additional resources and relationships. Our strategy is to license the invention to wireless service providers, platform manufacturers/integrators, and other practitioners (e.g., inside-mapping entities requiring location data) currently involved in the development of location-based services. We have taken care to ensure that our method and contemplated systems will integrate well with all existing wireless infrastructures and prospective wireless service offerings.
That said, we are well aware of possibly being perceived as a “patent troll.” We have carefully vetted our inventions to be reasonably certain that no other entity is or was doing anything similar before introducing our solution to the market. Our initial target market has, for good reason, fortified its defenses against patent trolls. Our overall strategy is to put it all out there for everyone to see while we also reach out through personal and trusted channels. We believe that if our solutions are seriously considered, there will be interest.