A team from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has built a new wireless network system that can pinpoint a user’s location to within ten centimetres, without the need for any additional sensors.
Wi-Fi networks quickly identify devices that come within range, and when several access points are connected it’s possible to triangulate someone’s position. But this new technology – known as “Chronos” – features a degree of accuracy twenty times greater than traditional localisation techniques.
Chronos hops across frequency channels and takes measurements to determine the angle and distance from a user to each access point. It analyses these results in real time to calculate the precise location to within one-tenth of a metre. This high level of accuracy has traditionally only been feasible with expensive ultra-wideband radio systems.
As a Wi-Fi system that can reliably pinpoint people and devices, Chronos delivers many opportunities in the areas of robotics and home automation. It opens up a wide range of potential commercial and consumer applications.
For example, drones can maintain a safe distance from people, objects, and other drones. Misplaced phones can be quickly located and recovered. Rooms in your home can identify individuals and adjust the heating and lighting accordingly.
And coffee shops can ensure that only customers inside the establishment are able to access the complementary Wi-Fi service. This means freeloaders standing outside, or sitting in the café next door, won’t be able to cause network congestion for valued customers.
Chronos is still in the research phase, so it’s not commercially available yet. And to make it work, you’ll need to update the software on your router and devices. Along with GPS, Chronos is just another step along the ongoing path towards tools and technologies that can identity your precise location. And one key benefit of Chronos over GPS is that it works reliably indoors.
But as with any new technology, we need to be aware of potential downsides. A relatively inexpensive and widely available system, that knows exactly where you are, could easily present future risks from a privacy and security perspective.