Even in an age of GPS-equipped smartphones, it’s tough to pinpoint your exact location inside a building or underground. Janne Haverinen says his IndoorAtlas software, which combines a mobile device’s internal compass with his proprietary indexing of indoor magnetic fields, won’t lose track of users indoors or on the subway.
IndoorAtlas was tested 4,760 feet underground in the depths of a copper and zinc mine—and passed—but Haverinen and his investors see shopping as the software’s primary application. That’s why Haverinen paced every aisle of a supermarket in his native Finland this past June, using his smartphone to meticulously collect unique magnetic readings at each step.
With that data in hand, the store’s owners will be able to monitor shoppers who run the software on their smartphones, and tailor coupons and ads accordingly. Consumers could be alerted to a sale on Tide as they pass the detergent shelf. “Everybody is chasing this indoor space,” says Patrick Connolly, an analyst for ABI Research. “You’re talking billions and billions of dollars.”
Haverinen may have a head start. The son of a mining company electrical engineer, by age 10 he was building radio transmitters and receivers to communicate with a neighbor in his village of 2,000. While earning a doctorate in computer science and engineering at the University of Oulu, he worked on mapping interior air quality and temperature using robots. He took inspiration from the mining tools his father designed, which used magnetic fields to locate ore deposits. “I’ve always tried to think simple,” he says.
Launched in January, IndoorAtlas employs 10 people and has already secured seed investment. (Haverinen declined to comment on the financing.) The company is weighing usage fees for its software vs. blanket licenses to app developers, and may seek more funding later this year.
Finnish startup Fonella, an early partner, is using Haverinen’s software in tablets built into shopping carts. Three Scandinavian store chains are currently testing the technology, which directs shoppers to the products they seek and displays ads for items that are nearby, accurate to up to a few inches. Fonella says the chains may expand their use of the tablets next year.
Haverinen’s software currently works only with Android devices, but his team will be developing versions compatible with Apple (AAPL) and other major mobile operating systems. To make it useful, of course, his team must first index the magnetic fields anywhere a shopper might go within each store that it maps.
Competitors are, however, more dependent on extra wireless equipment and hardware than Haverinen’s magnetic field index, says Ville Kolehmainen, Fonella’s chief executive officer. “With IndoorAtlas, you don’t have to build any infrastructure,” he says. “Also, it’s very accurate.”