C&B Notes

A Microchip that Tracks Your Every Move

The growing ubiquity and increasing complexity of tablets and smart phones hint at a coming age of augmented reality. This article leaves us with the task of imagining industries that will be impacted positively and negatively by this phenomenon in the next 20 years:

Broadcom has just rolled out a chip for smart phones that promises to indicate location ultra-precisely, possibly within a few centimeters, vertically and horizontally, indoors and out.  The unprecedented accuracy of the Broadcom 4752 chip results from the sheer breadth of sensors from which it can process information.  It can receive signals from global navigation satellites, cell-phone towers, and Wi-Fi hot spots, and also input from gyroscopes, accelerometers, step counters, and altimeters…  In theory, the new chip can even determine what floor of a building you’re on, thanks to its ability to integrate information from the atmospheric pressure sensor on many models of Android phones.  The company calls abilities like this “ubiquitous navigation,” and the idea is that it will enable a new kind of e-commerce predicated on the fact that shopkeepers will know the moment you walk by their front door, or when you are looking at a particular product, and can offer you coupons at that instant.  The integration of new kinds of location data opens up the possibility of navigating indoors, where GPS signals are weak or nonexistent.

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At least one feature of Broadcom’s new GPS chip is entirely forward-looking, and integrates data from a source that is not yet commercially deployed: Bluetooth beacons.  (Bluetooth is the wireless standard used for short-range communications in devices like wireless keyboards and phone headsets.)

“The use case [for Bluetooth beacons] might be malls,” says Pomerantz.  “It would be a good investment for a mall to put up a deployment — perhaps put them up every 100 yards, and then unlock the ability for people walking around mall to get very precise couponing information.”

“The density of these sensors will give you even finer location,” says Charlie Abraham, vice president of engineering at Broadcom.  “It could show you where the bananas are within a store — even on which shelf there’s a specific brand.”

>>  Click here for more from MIT Technology Review