Image analysis combined with radiotechnology provides positioning to the nearest centimetre
Imagine a future in which you are guided through the grocery store by the shopping list in your mobile phone. Apples – turn right, gluten-free biscuits – check the top shelf to the left, Jerusalem artichokes – continue straight ahead for 7.5 metres. This could become a reality thanks to new positioning technology under development by researchers at Lund University’s Faculty of Engineering. The secret is to take advanced algorithms from the field of image analysis and apply them to radio signals and ordinary soundwaves.
Outdoor positioning poses no major problem, thanks to global satellite systems such as American GPS and Russian Glonass. In the future, there will be more options such as Chinese BeiDou and –European Galileo. Combining the satellite signals with complementary radio-based technology makes it possible to obtain resolution to the nearest centimetre. Outdoors.
Indoors, it is a lot more difficult – but the Lund researchers are in the process of solving this challenge. The project is part of the newly launched Lund Positioning Lab at MAPCI (see separate article) and is run by Kalle Åström from the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Fredrik Tufvesson from Electrical and Information Technology and Bo Bernhardsson from Automatic Control.
“We see the fact that we are researchers from several different departments, with very different backgrounds, as a potential success factor. In addition, working together is a lot of fun”, says Kalle Åström.
So how does it work? Simply put, the researchers use different kinds of radio waves and/or ordinary sound waves. By moving a receiver, such as a mobile phone, within the premises where you want to offer positioning, you can “record” how the radiowaves, sound and receiver move and rebound. Using advanced algorithms, the researchers can then create a virtual model of the premises.
“Sound, WiFi, cellular phone networks, UWB – in short there are loads of signals everywhere on the premises. The signals are not intended for use to create maps, of course, but we have shown that this is not only possible but actually gives good results”, says Fredrik Tufvesson.
So what can one do with this technology? Its potential is only limited by imagination. In a hospital, you might want to monitor where all the beds are or how patients are moving around. In a multi-storey car park, you might want to know where the cars are positioned. And in a shopping centre, customers could be offered everything from discounts to virtual guided tours. In fact, the researchers have been to Lund’s Nova shopping centre to test the technology, with results so good that they themselves were surprised.
“Indoor positioning has been possible for about ten years, but with our technology it goes from super-expensive to very cheap”, says Bo Bernhardsson.
LTH researchers in general, and researchers at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in particular, are well known for being diligent in creating start-ups to put research findings to good use. Polar Rose, Mapillary and Cognimatics are among several well-known companies originating here. Could there be company spin-offs from positioning research as well?
“Starting a company is not out of the question, but we may choose to cooperate with existing companies instead. Ideon company Combain is currently working on positioning and we have already collaborated with them in the past”, says Kalle Åström.
Positioning to the nearest centimetre is thus underway and the next step will be to increase the resolution perhaps as far as the millimetre level.
“We have not yet combined the technologies with the mobile phones’ built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, but if we do, achieving precision to the nearest millimetre is not unlikely”, says Fredrik Tufvesson.
The aim is to simplify everyday life, although it is hard to say which functions will be the biggest hit.
“This opens up possibilities for an enormous range of applications. Firemen could pinpoint people’s location in a smoke-filled building, libraries could monitor the location of their books, and the local grocery store could inventory everything in stock every single day”, says Kalle Åström.
Facts – research for improved positioning indoors
Researchers at Lund University’s Faculty of Engineering are in the process of developing a technology which would enable positioning to the nearest centimetre of mobile phones, for example.
By combining the signal strengths from various radio and sound sources and measuring how the signals rebound, researchers can create a virtual map of the relevant area. The model can then be used to position mobile phones, for example. The trick is to take existing technology and existing signals and use them in a new way.
Kalle Åström from the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Fredrik Tufvesson from Electrical and Information Technology and Bo Bernhardsson from Automatic Control.
The positioning research is being conducted in several different projects:
* A Vinnova-funded project with Combain
* Within ELLIIT
* Within portable vision systems
* Within Engross (recently concluded)
* With funding from MAPCI.
New research lab moves Lund’s positions forward
Lund Positioning Lab is now opening – a research laboratory specialising in positioning. The lab is part of MAPCI – the Mobile and Pervasive Computing Institute at Lund University. The aim is to gather all research specialising in positioning at the University, to give business and industry an opportunity to use state-of-the-art laboratory premises and offer close contact with academic research in the field.
“Positioning is a fundamental component for developing many smart applications in the future. We are happy to be able to offer this opportunity both to researchers at the University and developers from partner organisations and companies in the region”, says Björn Landfeldt, director of MAPCI.
One of the first projects to use the Lund Positioning Lab is concerned with indoor positioning and conducted by Kalle Åström from the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Fredrik Tufvesson from Electrical and Information Technology and Bo Bernhardsson from Automatic Control at Lund University’s Faculty of Engineering.
Academic boundary-crossing with researchers cooperating across different departments is to be one of the characteristics of the positioning lab.
“We welcome and look forward to many exciting positioning projects here at MAPCI in the future”, says Björn Landfeldt.