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.
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.