Location Beacons with UWB


At Estimote, we’re building an operating system for the physical world, so that conference rooms, event venues, retail spaces, airports, and all kinds of physical spaces can be made more interactive and smarter through software.

For this to work out, apps running on top of such an OS must be able to easily access location of people and objects. It’s an absolutely critical piece of the puzzle, and our Indoor Location SDK is there to provide it.

However, to enable Indoor Location in any venue so far meant manually mapping the space out first. Imagine if wanting to use GPS location in an app required you to drive around the city with laser measure…

That’s why a few months ago, we announced Location Beacons with UWB and automapping. And today, we’re delighted to tell you that they’ve just started shipping!

Lowering the barrier of entry to indoor positioning

We believe easy to deploy, wireless Bluetooth beacons are the way to go for indoor positioning. That’s why more than 2 years ago, we created Estimote Indoor Location—sophisticated software to provide mobile app developers with precise (x,y) position of the user. Since then, we kept iterating on it, making it more accurate, scale to the biggest of spaces, and work in the background.

One thing kept bothering us though: the barrier of entry to Indoor remained high. While deployment is as easy as sticking a bunch of wireless beacons around a space, you still needed to provide a floor plan, and mark the precise position of the beacons on it.

If you wanted to quickly try Indoor out in your office space or at a hackathon, that’s quite a nuisance. If you wanted to set it up in thousands of venues around the country, that’s a logistical nightmare.
Attacking this problem is exactly where we focused our Indoor efforts last year, culminating in the announcement of Estimote Beacons with UWB and automapping earlier this year at CES.

How does it work?

Last year at Estimote, we innovated a ton in the area of beacon-to-beacon communication, adding mesh networking to Estimote Beacons. Beacons could now detect each other and exchange messages.

Building on top of that, we’ve added Ultra Wide Band radio to Location Beacons. Beacons talking to each other over UWB and not Bluetooth means we can use time-of-flight techniques to compute distances between them with inch-level precision. This is extremely critical for automapping, and the reason why we’re excited these beacons are now shipping!

Finally, once we know the distances between the beacons, we’re some simple math away from computing a map of their positions. Okay, the math is actually not that simple, and the computations are quite resource-intensive, so we delegate that part to Estimote Cloud.

The point is, most of this process if fully automated and requires very little involvement from a human being. This makes enabling Indoor Location in a venue a low-cost, low-effort operation.

Try it out with the updated Indoor Location demo app

Automapping brings tremendous time and cost savings when used at scale, but it also makes it much easier to quickly try Indoor Location out.
We updated the Estimote Indoor Location app with automapping, and it’s already in the App Store. It takes about 5 minutes to create your first floor plan and start navigating around it.

Once you’re done checking it out, we’ll upload the floor plan to Estimote Cloud, so that you can use it with the Estimote Indoor SDK in your own project.

One more thing … Introducing “Development” Access Mode

Automapping makes getting started with Indoor Location quick and easy, and with UWB Location Beacons, we’re also introducing another feature to get you up and running with Estimote APIs in no time. We call it “Development” Access Mode, and it opens up all of a beacon’s usually-protected features (such as configuration, secure advertising, or mesh) to any app and user.

  • It’s great for the prototyping/ideating phase of your project—focus all your time and effort on building, not on managing beacon ownership, Estimote Accounts, etc.
  • It’s great for hackathons—just grab the hardware and start coding. No need to create an account and register your beacons.
  • It’s great for sharing—just pass the dev kit, and worry not about having to transfer the ownership so that your colleague can access all the features.

Naturally, all the security built into Estimote Beacons and APIs is still there. In fact, all it takes to lock your beacons down is to switch the Access Mode flag in Estimote Cloud to “Deployed & Protected”. The change goes into effect immediately, without having to propagate it to beacons, and from now on, only you and the apps you authorized can access all the protected features.

UWB Location Beacon dev kits are the first to start shipping in the “Development” Access Mode by default, which means you’ll be able to enable automapping and Indoor Location right away!

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