Six percent of retailers can identify customers when they walk in the store using their smartphone, and 53 percent expect to be able to do so within five years, according to a BRP survey. This goes to show that location-based technology is becoming an increasingly important part of daily life. Location-based services (LBS) are already widely used and will continue to expand shortly.
How LBS Technology Works
There are a couple of ways common LBS applications work. Trilateration uses information from a GPS satellite network to compare a smartphone’s location to other known locations. However, GPS information can be hard to track indoors, so another technique is to use the local radio-frequency identification of reference points, such as Wi-Fi nodes or Bluetooth signals.
One application of LBS technology is to offer smartphone users information or options that are relevant to their location. For instance, the HTC One M9 smartphone uses a Sense Home Widget that gives you quick access to applications, shortcuts and folders you typically use in a given location. You might use different apps at home than you do at work, so the widget displays the ones you need at your current location.
Get the widget on your home screen by tapping and holding on an empty space, going under Add Apps and Widgets and choosing Widgets. To keep an icon from changing, press and hold it to pin it to the widget. You must have location services turned on to use this feature.
Another LBS application is geofencing. A geofence draws a virtual boundary around a mobile user. For instance, a business might draw a geofence around a customer who has entered its store. The business can then track what aisle the customer is shopping in and text them relevant coupon offers. Before stores can text you, though, you have to opt in to give them permission.
Geofencing also can be used to send yourself a reminder to do something when you reach a certain location, such as dropping off a letter when you reach a mailbox. Other applications include telling your smart home to automatically unlock the door when you come home, disabling device locking when you’re sitting at home and tracking your kid’s smartphone location.
Simultaneous Location and Mapping
Another LBS application is simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM. SLAM has been developed to help robots navigate and map an unfamiliar environment with sensors and math. Outside of robotics, SLAM works with depth cameras on smartphones to construct a map of your environment, pinpoint your location and identify objects. This helps you find your way around if you’re lost or lets you create 3-D maps.
Mapping the Final Frontier
One of the most futuristic uses of LBS technology is mapping outer space. In 2014, the NASA-supported European Space Agency probe Rosetta successfully made a rendezvous with a comet and sent a lander to the comet’s surface. Rosetta is controlled by an Earth-based system called an Intermediate Frequency Modem System (IFMS), which uses two ground points to track Rosetta similar to the way trilateration tracks a smartphone. Using IFMS, ground-based controllers were able to map the comet’s surface and send back spectacular images. In theory, you might someday use your smartphone to take a virtual tour of the solar system or use an aerial drone to photograph sightseeing highlights on Earth.