Suitable for measuring speed and distance in indoor environments, the Wi-Fi technique could be used to improve navigation technologies for robots, drones, or pedestrians trying to find their way around an airport.
"We call our approach Wi-Fi-assisted Inertial Odometry (WIO)," says Raghav Venkatnarayan, co-corresponding author of a paper on the work and a Ph.D. student at NC State. "WIO uses Wi-Fi as a velocity sensor to accurately track how far something has moved. Think of it as sonar, but using radio waves, rather than sound waves."
Many devices, such as smartphones, incorporate technology called inertial measurement units (IMUs) to calculate how far a device has moved. However, IMUs suffer from large drift errors, meaning that even minor inaccuracies can quickly become exaggerated.
In outdoor environments, many devices use GPS to correct their IMUs. But this doesn't work in indoor areas, where GPS signals are unreliable or nonexistent.
"We created WIO to work in conjunction with a device's IMU, correcting any errors and improving the accuracy of speed and distance calculations," says Muhammad Shahzad, co-corresponding author of the paper and an assistant professor of computer science at NC State. "This improvement in accuracy should also improve the calculations regarding a device's precise location in any indoor environment where there is a Wi-Fi signal.”
The researchers wanted to test the WIO software but ran into a problem. They could not access the Wi-Fi network interface cards in off-the-shelf devices such as smartphones or drones. To address the problem, the researchers created a prototype device that could be used in conjunction with other devices.