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How students are helping HERE to develop high precision positioning with Wi-Fi

Recently we spoke about how HERE is working with Tampere, Finland, to make the city smarter. Now, with the help of Tampere's brightest young students, HERE has launched a project to develop the first ever pilot version of high precision positioning with Wi-Fi. The key to building this project? Lots and lots of walking.

Jari Syrjarinne at HERE, who is managing the project, tells us more:

"We began planning the project earlier this year, with the aim to collect a huge range of data samples to improve our positioning service. This required a group of people who were very fit, and were able to walk for a long time to capture all the radio signals that are out there in Tampere."

As luck would have it, a national program had recently launched in Finland for teenagers between 14-16, giving them the opportunity to experience a first job or traineeship within an industry. Jari continues:

"We decided to work with this program so that, instead of using sub-contractors or our own resources, we found 12 students to take the job and get their first experience in the tech industry."

So, what did the students do, and how will it contribute to high precision positioning?

Walk the walk

High precision positioning technologies use Wi-Fi signals in dense urban areas to determine the location of devices with a never-before-seen level of accuracy. To develop these technologies, data samples containing reference locations (including a list of Wi-Fi access points) must be collected.

The best way to do this is through crowd sourcing, and in the early stages, data samples must be collected manually. According to Jari, this is where the students came in:

"Without these students, we simply wouldn't be able collect the data we need. A lot of data is required to understand what the radio environment looks like in an urban area. It's a balancing act -- the data sample shouldn't be too big or too small if we are to get meaningful and reliable results."

"With 12 students undertaking a two-week term, walking 15, even 20 kilometres per day, we can cover a lot of ground in a city and collect data in a way that represents a small-scale version of global crowd sourcing -- helping us to understand how this would work on a global level."

The students are provided with data collection tools (Android smartphones) and instructions on how, where and when to collect the data. The data is collected as they walk, with the students covering the same areas several times.

Ida Suontausta, a student who took part in the project, said, "We have walked through the streets in Tampere in pairs and collected data, and I would definitely get involved in this type of project again. My dad works at HERE and I've been happy to take part and get to know the business and the industry better."

Future planning

Jari explains the importance of HERE working closely with the students, ensuring that they walk not just the streets, but to different parts of the city -- from bus stations to shopping malls -- to collect data to enable both indoor and outdoor positioning. He adds:

"The data is key, and there is a knack to collecting it -- it's not simply walking. You have to follow a route, and ensure you're not too fast or too slow. We have a U.I to show the students how the data collection is going, which hopefully gives them an insight into how they are contributing to the project."

The benefits of the project go beyond creating more accurate positioning technologies, highlighting to students that jobs in technology and mathematics may not simply be about equations and formulas.

Jari says, "We wanted to show these students the real work we do at HERE. That we're doing work that could change the world. While they only get a small amount of exposure into what we do, I hope they come away thinking that it's cool to work in technology, and that we may have given them some insight into a future career."

Planning for the future is the basis for the project, and Tampere's future is very much entwined with the work HERE is doing. HERE has been working very closely with the city of Tampere to help drive the development of smart services, with this project a further contribution to this goal.

Jari explains:

"The aim of the project is to offer seamless high precision positioning with Wi-Fi both indoor and outdoor, without GPS. Wi-Fi signals are only becoming denser, with an increasing number of access points appearing. By using the data from these access points, we know that we can create more precise positioning."

"By offering high precision positioning with Wi-Fi, we can empower services like IoT tracking -- making it possible to position and track anything in all types of environments. We want high precision positioning with Wi-Fi to be the glue that connects different venues and sites, and will offer it as one seamless solution. This will help contribute to smarter cities, Tampere included."

During the project, which ran throughout June, HERE and the students collected around 100GB of raw data. HERE engineers are now analysing the data, with the aim to develop and eventually roll out a pilot of high precision positioning with Wi-Fi over the next couple of years. Jari concludes:

"This project will help us take positioning to the next level, which no other company in the world has done, and it's all thanks to these students."

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