Location has been a mainstay of the mobile internet for more than decade. Using GPS in phones has enabled all kinds of innovative applications, from Waze to Uber. But GPS isn’t a match for the internet of things. It hogs battery power, doesn’t work well indoors, and GPS modules are expensive to put into products.
Which is why a crop of startups and big companies are trying to find other options for locating devices that won’t cost a lot or drain batteries. And it would be awesome if they worked well indoors — or better yet, in three dimensions, so you could see if an object was on the fourth floor or the fifth. Hoopo is one of the startups that thinks it has mastered this challenge.
Hoopo uses existing low-power wide-area networks to track goods and services in a set area. It uses triangulation to find tiny tags placed on pallets, vehicles, or whatever other equipment a client wants monitored. Currently, Hoopo’s technology can work on LoRa networks, although it isn’t confined to that radio standard.
The Israeli company has raised $1.5 million to build out its tags and the necessary gateways. Its CEO, Ittay Hayut, says he sees a market for tracking things as diverse as cattle on farms to managing medical equipment in hospitals. Hayut’s contention that the IoT needs low-power location tracking technologies is a common one.
Other companies are trying to get granular location without GPS as well. For example, PoLTE uses triangulation of cellular signals to determine the placement of a device. It recently raised an undisclosed Series A round, although the company has existed for at least the last nine years. PoLTE doesn’t use tags, but instead uses a device’s SIM card. It sells its software and an appliance to run its software to carriers that then implement it into their networks.
The operators then sell the location services as part of their IoT solutions. PoLTE has signed deals to get its software into a variety of modems and can deliver location data between 2 meters and 6 meters. It’s not able to offer location in three dimensions yet, but is working on it.
Locating things without sucking up a lot of power will go beyond letting companies track people and assets. It could also lead to new ownership models for expensive gear and expand our understanding of the world. For example, loaning out a ladder to a neighbor is easier when you can see exactly where that ladder is. Or in the case of the environment, low-power tracking lets us monitor small creatures that a GPS module might overwhelm.
So while initial use cases will be around asset tracking and fleet management, low-power geolocation will enable a new wave of startups and innovation in the years to come.