The Israeli navigation app Waze will steer you to your destination along the fastest route. But it can’t help you find your way inside a mall, museum, school, hospital, airport or other large building because GPS doesn’t work indoors.
This problem has caught the attention of tech companies large and small, including Google and Apple, yet today’s indoor maps haven’t mastered live navigation functionality.
Three Israeli companies are meeting this challenge with sophisticated indoor orientation apps independent of beacons or any other hardware installations in the venue. Each approach is slightly different, as we explain below.
Oriient, founded in February 2016 in Tel Aviv, is building a plug-in for app developers on a monthly licensing model. The technology pinpoints indoor position within three feet using information from the Earth’s magnetic field and from sensors inside every smartphone.
Many malls, for example, already offer visitors free dedicated apps that enable them to do a store or product search. Adding Oriient to that app will provide an accurate indoor positioning service to guide the shopper directly to the store and even the shelf. The same could be done in any large building.
“Retailers and facility managers expect the service to just work without installing or maintaining anything. It’s low-cost and no hassle, and that’s what drives us,” CEO Mickey Balter tells ISRAEL21c.
Oriient was incubated in the 8200 EISP accelerator in Tel Aviv from January to June last year, and then from June to September in Techstars/Metro Accelerator for Retail in Berlin, a new cooperation between a German retail chain and an American accelerator.
“Through that platform we gained significant customers in the European retail space and are working with them on deployment,” says Balter.
“Next would be extension to the US and to non-retail verticals like smart buildings and robotics. We are seeing a lot of opportunities in the ‘future of the workspace’ as a lot of office buildings are introducing indoor positioning. We don’t necessarily have to track smartphones; we can also track robots.”
Oriient has five employees and is hiring more, having received more than $2 million in seed funding.
Navin took off nearly five years ago, guided by cofounders including Shai Ronen, a former F-16 combat navigator and Technion computer science graduate who worked in mapping and navigation technology at Elbit, Visionmap and Compugen.
Like Waze, the Navin app is powered by crowdsourcing. Its patented P2P Crowd Mapping technology turns smartphones into anonymous indoor mapping devices that passively capture millions of data movement points using aviation-grade stabilization, noise-canceling and drift-correction algorithms. The app generates maps from these data points.
“We have the novel ability to create detailed maps of any building anywhere in the world remotely on our servers, without us ever being in that building,” Ronen tells ISRAEL21c.
Because a critical mass of data is needed to create each map — about 20 to 40 users using virtually any device at any time — Navin will recruit regional “ambassadors” to do the mapping prior to a beta launch early this year in one city at a time. Currently, Navin is being tested in large Israeli hospitals.
Navin was incubated in 8200 EISP and then in the Microsoft Ventures accelerator. Three years ago, serial entrepreneur Gidi Barak came aboard as founder and active chairman.
The Tel Aviv startup has 12 employees and has raised nearly $2 million from investors and the Israel Innovation Authority. Recently, Navin opened an office in Hong Kong because “Asia is a great place to start and there is a lot of interest in Hong Kong and Singapore, which are gateways to other countries,” says Ronen.
The revenue model probably will be based on in-app advertising from businesses in the buildings mapped, targeted to individual users’ movement patterns.
Indoorgo Navigation Systems is developing an app that makes use of smartphone sensors and existing infrastructure in a building, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as the fixed position of the building’s overhead lights.
“This also allows us uniquely to give navigation in places such as parking garages,” says Larry Loev, CEO of Ariel Scientific Innovations, the technology commercialization arm of Ariel University.
The core technology was developed nearly five years ago in the university’s Kinematics and Computational Geometry Laboratory by professors Boaz Ben-Moshe and Nir Shvalb. Ben-Moshe and Ariel Scientific Innovations are the primary shareholders of Indoorgo, which has been exclusively funded till now by Ariel University.
To add any building to the app’s central database, it must be mapped once by one person – it could be an employee of the building, with no special training – in the course of about two hours. Data from subsequent Indoorgo users improves the positioning accuracy, explains Ben-Moshe. “Accuracy of up to 3 meters is achieved for the first visitor, gradually improving to less than 1 meter.”
Loev says this resolution is significant. “Google Maps can throw you off by 10 to 15 meters, while ours will be a product you can reliably use.”
Indoorgo is in the demo stage and has been tested in Israeli shopping malls. “The company is now ready for investment or sale,” says Loev.
Targeted in-app advertising is the most likely revenue model.