MIT Has Created an Incredibly Accurate Indoor Positioning System Using WiFi

WiFi has more uses than just sending your tweets and reaction GIFs out to the Internet (pretty generous of it, really). It’s also useful for position tracking systems, but most of the ones you’re familiar with don’t hold up so well when it comes to pinpoint accuracy. That could change with a technology from MIT that uses WiFi signals to detect the exact position of the devices sending them.

There have been small scale accuracy-oriented positioning systems before, but none of them really have the ease of installation or accuracy of MIT’s new Chronos system—not to mention not nearly as cool a name. Their Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab (CSAIL) built Chronos to leverage the capabilities of any WiFi device to accurately locate another within centimeters of accuracy, which is awesome and not creepy at all if you don’t think about it too hard.

Chronos works by having both devices switch between the 35 WiFi frequency bands at the same time, which allows them to compare the natural differences in each signal’s phase and figure out how long the signals took to travel, which allows them to pinpoint distance. The technology we’re becoming so used to carrying on a daily basis really is pretty amazing when put to good use; most modern cellphones even have multiple WiFi antennas, which allows Chronos to not only figure out the distance but also the direction of the other device, detecting its exact relative position in space.

IEEE Spectrum reports that the researchers behind Chronos see a number of possible applications for the technology, from allowing patrons inside a coffee shop to use WiFi without a password while those leaching outside are cut off to robots safely navigating around humans. Professor Dina Katabi told them, “Because Wi-Fi is widely used and in every cellphone, it would be good to use this amazing technology for as many applications as we can.”

(via IEEE Spectrum, image via Christiaan Colen on Flickr)

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Tags: smartphones, Wifi