A couple weeks ago Nokia hosted The Way We Live Next PR gathering at the Nokia House to introduce press and other interested folks to a variety of R&D projects researchers are cooking-up inside Helsinki and Palo Alto labs. Some of these projects are incubated under scientific exploration umbrellas working alongside academia within a consequence-free environment that encourages rapid risk taking. I've written about this atmosphere at Nokia before and its important implications on innovation. If a rapid fail-and-learn and subsequent adapt-and-win observation, orientation, decision, and action loop is encouraged in a non-commercial academic environment, success is defined by learned failures, and the more quickly failure occurs, the faster success follows. One Nokia R&D lab initiative is the Indoor Positioning System (IPS) project—an initial experiment gone beta using WLANs to determine indoor locations of WiFi-enabled devices connected to WLAN networks on Nokia campuses. I’m sure some caught blurbs and bytes about it last week in blogs. I dug a bit deeper to try to learn more and recently spoke to Kimmo Kalliola, Research Leader of the Nokia Research Center and CTO's office, and leader of the IPS project.
Inspiration for the project stems from a user survey revealing that a majority of mobile users spend a larger percentage of their time indoors - on corporate & university campuses, in office buildings, shopping malls, rail stations, plants, warehouses, hospitals, etc. Kalliola saw an opportunity to apply Nokia's wireless RF engineering knowledge to these environments by using client-side WLAN signal strengths inherent in WLAN-enabled Nokia devices. His system leverages signal data accessible on the device to measure distances to nearby access points. These distances are then interpolated to calculate a mean distance to determine position plus uncertainty. The system is in use today in 40+ Nokia buildings, and Kimmo plans to open an API to others soon, beginning with Universities interested in using the technology for research purposes to track and model behavioral patterns and interaction on campuses. When I asked about the possibility of coupling the IPS with Nokia's leadership in NFC for commerce transactions and purchasing scenarios, Kalliola said "that's certainly something Nokia is looking at".