Speaking at the recent GPS and Wireless Conference in California, Clem Driscoll, founder and president of C.J. Driscoll Associates, noted 300,000 companies are now using mobile resource management (MRM) systems and services. The MRM market is expected to grow from 5 million units in 2011 to 7.5 million in 2014, with a current market size of about $2 billion.
Taking advantage of that, a variety of new services and business models in the era of ubiquitous location coverage are being developed and commercialized.
At the high end, services are springing up to take advantage of massive location databases for behavioral analytics, better traffic engineering and targeted advertising. For example, Cy Smith, founder and CEO of AirSage, said AirSage is tracking more than 100 million devices to see where people go and what they do, “anonymizing” the information to protect privacy and then using the data to build better traffic-planning and behavioral-analytics tools.
AirSage is gathering about 40 billion points of data per year, but the challenge is: how do you manage all of it? Smith predicted AirSage’s data could grow to about 250 petabytes in a few years, costing an estimated $100 million to manage using existing storage technologies.
Service providers also are working to build embedded systems with location-tracking features for improved insurance rates, fleet management and freight management.
Liberty Mutual Agency Corp. is using car and location tracking as a way of measuring driver performance. In some cases, drivers can earn a discount of as much as 40 percent on insurance. One of the key challenges lies in managing the information in such a way that Liberty Mutual can gauge driving behavior without impinging a driver’s privacy. And it’s not just consumers who are concerned; trucking groups have been opposed to the use of this type of technology, citing privacy concerns.
Another challenge is that it can take several years to determine the extent to which measured driving habits translate to reduced accident rates, Liberty said. The existing independent broker model used to sell insurance may have incentives against selling a new service designed to reduce rates and, thus, agent commissions.
Other potential location-related services now being explored include improved store navigation, personal tracking for the elderly and health analytics. Companies also are looking at developing services that work inside of buildings, which typically mitigate GPS satellite data signals. One approach being pursued by CRS with its SiRFusion platform is to make use of multiple sensors and radio signals to improve accuracy in a mobile device.
Indoor GPS Challenges
Another approach has been Skyhook Wireless, which started in 2003 with Wi-Fi positioning and now supports a variety of different signals. Kanwar Chadha, CMO at CSR, said many of these additional location technologies are getting a second life as a supplement to GPS indoors.
At the moment, there are few proved business models that leverage these indoor tracking techniques, although Chadha said they are becoming available in some malls and at trade shows. Companies must individually build maps of their buildings, and there currently are multiple different mapping APIs that are different from the outdoor location services. There also are other issues with mapping multiple floors in a building, noted Ankit Agarwal, CEO at Micello.
Micello is working with retailers to set up location beacons and to create digital maps for stores, aisles and individual product placement. For retailers, Agarwal said this mapping could help streamline a customer’s shopping experience, and new apps could dynamically suggest new offers as a customer walks through a store. The challenge? Building systems that reliably track location down to three meters.
— George Lawton