No GPS Signal Indoors? This Pittsburgh Company Has A Way Around That

Mar 28, 2017

Figuring out where to find something in a large warehouse or navigating a sprawling campus, like a hospital, isn’t always easy.

“You know, how do you get from the main door (of a hospital) to a certain department? You’re asking 20 people along the way and then you get frustrated,” said ARIN Technologies CEO Vivek Kulkarni. “But if there were a way to navigate, like you use Google Maps, that would make life so much easier.”

ARIN Technologies is working to offer navigation solutions for those kinds of situations. It currently offers a way of tracking workers, equipment and products in a warehouse. In fact, the company began testing its technology as a safety tool this week in a Pittsburgh-area warehouse. It put tracking chips on mobile equipment such as fork trucks and on employees who move about the same place on foot.

“Basically we can figure out when a collision is imminent and warn the operator of the mobile equipment or the person, the pedestrian, in that space so they can take appropriate action,” Kulkarni said.

He wouldn’t say which company is testing the technology, but said it is a Fortune 500 company. The test will last just two weeks before the firm makes a decision to either buy ARIN’s product or to look for another solution.

“I haven’t slept for the last two days,” Kulkarni said with a laugh. “This is exciting stuff, this is what we live for … it’s play, because we’re having fun doing this and we’re actually solving a problem.”

The way ARIN can track employees and objects moving around the warehouse is by using transponders that communicate with anchors that work much like satellites – offering a kind of indoor GPS.

“This is where the secret sauce comes in,” Kulkarni said. “We can synchronize these anchors to an extremely high level of accuracy. Better accuracy than the satellites in the GPS constellation can. And that allows us to come up with a really highly accurate position calculation for the tag.”

During a recent beta test in a 100,000-square-foot warehouse, they could watch an order puller move from one side of a narrow aisle to the other.

ARIN Technologies is simultaneously developing a product that would allow a user to find every piece needed to fulfill an order. Again, Kulkarni used a popular consumer technology as an example.

“Say you want to go for lunch and eat Mexican, so you go to Google Maps and say, ‘Show me Mexican restaurants,’ and it puts down pins showing you where all of the Mexican restaurants are around you,” he said. “(We would do) exactly the same thing.  We’ll drop a pin in your floor map showing you where that particular part is.”

Kulkarni said that would open the door to a fully automated process

For now, the company is in both the hardware and software business because, according to Kulkarni, no one is making the radio tags they needed. However, he said he hopes someday there will be off-the-shelf transponders and receivers and ARIN will be able to focus on developing and selling software and service.

In this week’s tech headlines:

  • The University of Pittsburgh is teaming up with George Mason University to help create the next generation of wearable exoskeletons for spinal cord injury and stroke patients. The team will use a National Science Foundation grant to develop a system that utilizes both electrical nerve stimulation and external motors to help patients walk. Both schools received their own three-year $400,000 grant. Pitt’s assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science Nitin Sharma said current systems that do not “talk” to the leg muscles through electrical stimulation could lead to injury because the patient doesn’t necessarily know if their leg muscles are tired.
  • Apple claims the hacking vulnerabilities disclosed by WikiLeaks this month have all been fixed in its more recent iPhones and Mac computers. The documents released by the anti-secrecy site pointed to an apparent CIA program to hack Apple devices using techniques that users couldn't disable.  The company said the fixes were made back in 2008 for cell phones and 2013 for macs. WikiLeaks published thousands of alleged CIA documents describing hacking tools it said the government employed to break into computers, mobile phones and even smart TVs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.