If you’re lost, the GPS receiver in your smartphone can help you navigate almost anywhere accurately. However, as soon as you enter a parking garage or building, you lose contact with the GPS satellites.

Your phone’s GPS needs to lock onto least three satellite signals to allow for a location’s triangulation; the solid building structure blocks those signals. This challenge is what motivated Reckon Point founder Gabe Garza to engineer a robot that can survey interior spaces to create detailed maps thereof. The San Antonio native and engineer has developed a technology that uses the earth’s field of electromagnetic signals to accurately recreate the layout of an interior space.

“Our vision is to become the Google Maps for indoor mapping and navigation,” Garza said. “From helping sight-impaired people navigate to aiding robotic navigation in manufacturing and supply chain operations, the applications are endless.”

The full rollout of San Antonio-based Reckon Point’s technology and app is expected in late 2017. Garza has three employees but is looking to hire a software developer with an engineering background.

Reckon Point is currently offering a mapping service using its robot to provide three-dimensional scanning of commercial spaces so architects can use an updated rendering of an indoor space, which could be helpful for vendors looking to build out spaces.

“Often the original floor plan is outdated and doesn’t reflect customizations previous tenants may have done in the space,” Garza said.

The robot also can be used on construction sites for three-dimensional scanning of the building site to show where the utilities, drainage, and other features are located, with accuracy down to 2 centimeters.

The robot created by Reckon Point can survey interior spaces to create detailed maps.
Reckon Point’s robot can survey interior spaces to create detailed maps. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

An indoor positioning system (IPS) locates people or objects inside a building using radio waves, magnetic fields, acoustic signals, or other sensory information typically collected by mobile devices. There are several commercial systems on the market, but there is no standard for an IPS system. Some of Reckon Point’s competitors use a public space’s Bluetooth beacons as reference points for triangulating.

If you’ve opted into using a vendor’s smartphone app and gotten a text offering a special promotion once you’re browsing inside the store, it’s because the store’s Bluetooth beacons or Wi-Fi access points have located your cellphone.

Instead, Reckon Point’s robot has sensors to detect the earth’s electromagnetic fields. Using small-scale microelectromechanical (MEMS) sensors to measure magnetic fields in three dimensions, the robot’s sensor data are used to create a map by detecting disturbances in the magnetic field, as the earth’s signals bend around columns, tables, and other solid materials within a building.

“We use a hybrid method, since we also collect information on Wi-Fi access points,” Garza said. “This is unique to Reckon Point’s technology and we do it to increase our accuracy by merging the two data sets.”

Garza said Reckon Point’s mapping accuracy is about 1.2 meters, while “most of our competitors are at about 5 meters.” The accuracy for typical  mobile phone GPS is an average of about 30 meters.

Interior mapping of Geekdom located in the Rand Building by Reckon Point.
Reckon Point’s interior mapping of Geekdom, located in the Rand Building in downtown San Antonio. Credit: Courtesy / Reckon Point

The sensor fusion of magnetic field signals and Wi-Fi access points provides Reckon Point a fail-safe in the event of a power outage, for example, during an emergency response to an industrial or commercial building. If there is no electricity, the Wi-Fi will also be lost, but the earth’s magnetic field data will always available for localization.

“People would still be able to navigate and emergency responders can ‘see’ the people inside the building if you’re wearing a Reckon Point beacon, or if your cellphone is using the Reckon Point app,” Garza said.

In addition to the use of its robot for interior mapping, Reckon Point’s technology could be used as more of an internet of things (IoT) device, especially should a company use one of Reckon Point’s beacons for locating employees working in dangerous conditions.

“He saw a problem that needed solution,” said Geekdom Membership Manager Jon Garcia, who met Garza when he was walking around the Rand building’s seventh floor with his robot one day. “He’s looking to help people and potentially save lives. Companies using this technology are going to be able to know if a person is in the building. If there’s a fire, for example, they’ll be able to make sure everyone is safe.”

Other applications for Reckon Point’s mapping of interior spaces include enhancing safety and security for industrial workers, Garza said. Employers could track workers in a hazardous work environment where the technology could send an alert if employees enter a geofenced area that is dangerous or off-limits.

The technology could also be used to track assets in a complex warehouse operation, to detect how shipments are moving across the floor in real time and to make certain inventory is moved to the correct loading area.

“The biggest problem in warehouse management is having the wrong items, especially perishable goods, get loaded onto the wrong truck,” Garza said.

In an industrial emergency, an employer could turn on the system to locate employees quickly if each one either has a beacon or the Reckon Point app on a cellphone.

“There is no passive tracking of people,” Garza said. “This is an opt-in technology; if you want to be found, you opt into the Reckon Point software.”

Garza has been approached by two large companies based in China who are interested in indoor mapping of shopping centers and casinos. Reckon Point’s technology would enable one company to send shopping advertisements to shoppers inside their stores, while the casinos are interested in using the technology for crowd management.

“Using the app, they could send notifications to gamblers to tell them that certain slot machines were open and offer free drinks to entice part of the crowd to move to that new location,” Garza said.

“What he’s doing its pretty niche,” Garcia said. “It’s a very specific technology and a specific market he’s going after. It’s different from a lot of the other things that are going on around [Geekdom], but there are companies here that are looking to use their technology for all sorts of applications. It’s exciting.”

Hanna Oberhofer contributed to this report. 

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.