Google enables location awareness in IoT devices without GPS

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Google Inc. Tuesday announced it’s teaming up with Internet of Things platform provider Particle Industries Inc. to make devices “location aware” using the Google Maps geolocation application programming interface.

Previously, in order to make devices location aware, it was necessary to install a GPS module on the device or sensor. But these modules can be expensive, so Google wants enterprises to connect their devices to its geospatial database of cellular and Wi-Fi networks instead.

The Google Maps API can also be used to improve the accuracy of existing GPS devices, and can provide location data even if GPS systems fail, Ken Nevarez, solutions architect for Google Maps APIs, said in a blog post.

Nevarez explained that there are issues with traditional asset tracking systems, which are usually enabled by IoT sensors that rely on satellite-based GPS. These systems often fail to work properly indoors, he said. In addition, inaccuracy can be a problem in densely populated urban areas as tall buildings can sometimes block satellite signals. As a result, devices can’t always identify their location.

“The Geolocation API is based on cell tower and WiFi signals that continue to operate where GPS fails,” Nevarez said. “This capability allows you to track your assets anywhere, both indoors and out.”

For now, this new GPS-like capability is only being made available to IoT devices running the Particle platform. These devices can use the Google Maps Geolocation API to configure time zones and other location-aware settings automatically, Nevarez said. “For example, location aware window blinds can reference the number of available hours of sunlight and then make informed decision on how to passively heat a room,” he wrote.

To enable geolocation on a Particle IoT device, developers need to obtain a Maps API key, flash Google Maps firmware onto the device, then enable Google Maps integration in the Particle console.

The announcement comes as Google launches beta availability of its Cloud IoT Core service this week, which enables organizations to connect and manage IoT devices from Google’s cloud platform. With the service, users can collect data from the network edge and perform analytics using services such as Big Query and Cloud DataFlow.

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