The iPhone U1 UWB Chip, Digital Twins and Data Collection

Oddly enough the biggest news this week from the iPhone 11 introduction by Apple barely got any play. In fact, on the iPhone 11 Pro website, you have to scroll past Dog Portrait mode to get any information about it. Apple describes the U1 chip thusly:

The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 Pro to understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1‑equipped Apple devices.4 It’s like adding another sense to iPhone, and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities. With U1 and iOS 13, you can point your iPhone toward someone else’s, and AirDrop will prioritize that device so you can share files faster.4 And that’s just the beginning.

https://www.apple.com/iphone-11-pro/

Makes sense right? A better way to AirDrop. But there is so much more there, “precise location relative to other nearby equipped Apple Devices“. But what is UWB and why does it matter? The UWB Alliance says:

UWB is a unique radio technology that can use extremely low energy levels for short-range, high-bandwidth communications over a large portion of the radio spectrum. Devices powered by a coin cell can operate for a period of years without recharge or replacement. UWB technology enables a broad range of applications, from real-time locating and tracking, to sensing and radar, to secure wireless access, and short message communication. The flexibility, precision and low-power characteristics of UWB give it a unique set of capabilities unlike any other wireless technology.

So that’s really interesting, low energy use, high bandwidth and is very secure. I thought Jason Snell did a great job looking into the U1 on Six Colors:

From raw data alone, UWB devices can detect locations within 10 centimeters (4 inches), but depending on implementation that accuracy can be lowered to as much as 5 millimeters, according to Mickael Viot, VP of marketing at UWB chipmaker Decawave.

That’s pretty amazing. Basically it takes what makes Bluetooth LE great for discover, secures it and then makes it faster and more accurate. So we can see the consumer use cases for UWB, sharing files and finding those tiles we’ve heard so much about. But where this gets very interesting for our space is for data collection and working inside digital twins. You can already see the augmented reality use case here. A sensor has gone bad in a building, I can find it now with millimeter accuracy. But it’s not just what direction it’s how far. UWB uses “time of flight” to pinpoint location (measuring the time of signal to gauge distance), enabling it to know how far away it is. Just knowing a sensor is ahead of you is one thing, but knowing it is 20 feet away, that’s really a game changer.

You can see this through a little known app Apple makes called Indoor Survey. Small side note, back in late 2015 I blogged about Apple’s Indoor Positioning App which ties into all this. Where you really see this use is when you go to the signup page see how data is brought into this app using a standard called Indoor Mapping Data Format. Indoor Mapping Data Format (IMDF) provides a generalized, yet comprehensive data model for any indoor location, creating a basis for orientation, navigation and discovery. IMDF is output as an archive of GeoJSON files.  Going to the IMDF Sandbox really shows you what this format is about.

Apple’s IMDF Sandbox

Basically you see a map editor that allows you to really get into how interiors are mapped and used. So Apple iPhone 11 UWB devices can help place themselves more accurately on maps and route users around building interiors. Smart buildings get smarter by the devices talking to each other. Oh and IMDF, Apple says, “For GIS and BIM specialists, there is support for IMDF in many of your favorite tools.“. I will need to spend a bit more time with IMDF but its basically GeoJSON objects so we already know how to use it.

The thing about GPS data collection is it works great outdoors, but inside it is much harder to get accuracy, especially when you need it. With Indoor Survey, devices can collect data much more accurately indoors because they know exactly where they are. If you’ve ever used Apple Maps in an airport and seen how it routes you from gate to gate, you get an idea how this works. But with UWB, you go from foot accuracy to sub centimeter. That’s a big difference.

Now we’re a long way away from UWB being ubiquitous like Bluetooth LE is. Right now as far as I can tell, only Apple has UWB chips in their devices and we don’t know how compatible this all is yet. But you can see how the roadmap is laid out here. UWB, GeoJSON and an iPhone 11. Devices help each other get better location and in turn make working with Digital Twins and data collection so much easier.

Friday Links

Back in the day I used to always have a Friday link blog post and I’ve noticed I’ve been doing a lot more reading so it just feels right to visit this back.

  1. Apple owes everyone an apology and it should start with me, specifically – You can’t but own one of the latest Apple MacBook Pros and not hate the keyboard. I’ve been “lucky” enough to experience all three versions of it. The latest is on my new laptop from Spatial Networks which I have to admit feels the best of any of them but I’m just waiting for the “f” key to stop working like it has on all my other ones. I used to enjoy typing on MacBooks but not anymore. The thing is they keep trying to fix broken and not just go back to something that worked.
  2. Electric scooters have zipped by docked bikes in popularity – Here in Tempe, AZ we get to see all of them. Bird, Uber/JUMP, Lime, Razor and various ones I can’t even tell the brand. Their are like lice on every corner just fallen over and broken. I noted in St. Pete that they didn’t have any scooters and it was surreal walking around on sidewalk without jumping out of the way of some idiot on a scooter. I don’t understand the business model but I hate to say they are here to stay.
  3. A look at IBM S/360 core memory: In the 1960s, 128 kilobytes weighed 610 pounds – I mean the title says it all. These things were HUGE! X and Y wires. It’s madness but apparently it worked!
  4. Notre Dame Cathedral will never be the same, but it can be rebuilt – Thanks to all the pictures and Lidar imagery, the Catheral will be rebuilt and be very close to original. But…

While architects have enough detailed information about the cathedral to pull off a technically very precise reconstruction, the craftsmanship is unlikely to be the same. Today, the stone that makes up the cathedral would be cut using machinery, not by hand by small armies of stonemasons as in the 12th century. “Nineteenth-century and 20th-century Gothic buildings always look a little dead, because the stone doesn’t bear the same marks of the mason’s hand,” Murray told Ars Technica.

Still I look forward to watching this happen.

Apple Gets Ready to Release Indoor Positioning Service

Over the weekend Apple apparently pushed out an indoor positioning appIndoor Survey’ into the iOS App Store.

“By dropping ‘points’ on a map within the Survey App, you indicate your position within the venue as you walk through,” reads the app description. “As you do so, the indoor Survey App measures the radio frequency (RF) signal data and combines it with an iPhone’s sensor data. The end result is indoor positioning without the need to install special hardware.”

Interesting in the sense it appears to be an app that stores can use to map their interiors with iOS devices.  It’s not a crowd sourced indoor mapping application.  This dovetails nicely with the other announcement this morning about their new Maps Indoor service.

For now, Apple is focusing its efforts on a handful of venues that meet specific criteria. These requirements include:

  • The venue must be accessible to the general public
  • Only locations that draw more than a million visitors per year
  • Apple requires “complete, accurate, and scaled reference maps” for consideration
  • The venue must have Wi-Fi throughout, and an official app available on the App Store

The groundwork is set for Apple to start mapping interiors of these large open venues.  But with an app and an iPhone, clearly Apple is planning to scale this out to just about every indoor location.  I suspect we’ll see stadiums, amusement parks and other entertainment venues appear first over the next year.