Lost in the shopping mall? Israeli innovators map future of indoor GPS

Haifa-based company GeinusMatcher releases indoor GPS app, at Spanish mall with 3 more malls in that country signed up.

Ramat Aviv mall on Election Day, January 22, 2013 370 (photo credit: DANIELLE ZIRI)
Ramat Aviv mall on Election Day, January 22, 2013 370
(photo credit: DANIELLE ZIRI)
A modern scenario: You check Facebook on your phone and see that a friend has posted about a one-hour-only, everything-half-off sale at a high-end electronics store in the new mall on the other side of town. By clicking on the name of the store in your friend’s post, your phone automatically pulls up driving directions. You get in your car and, using the phone’s navigation system, arrive quickly at the shopping complex. But the sale is soon ending, and as soon as you enter the mall, your phone’s GPS no longer works.
Then you have a dilemma: When everything else in the world is just a few finger taps away, how do you get around the unfamiliar maze of a new shopping center, where location-pinpointing satellites don’t reach?
Upwards of 70 companies around the world are trying to solve this problem, and several Israeli start-ups are among the best – and latest – to enter the race.
Last week, Haifa-based GeinusMatcher released Mally, their indoor GPS app, at a shopping center in Toledo, Spain, with three more malls in that country signed up to begin using the service in the next couple months.
Mally is unique among its peers for its relative ease. A commercial complex wishing to utilize the program simply pays a monthly fee to GeniusMatcher, and shoppers can download the app for free to their mobile phones.
Other malls in Spain currently use technology wireless Internet-based technology from Google to provide in-store navigation for customers. With Mally, the Israeli developers wanted to prove: “It isn’t enough.”
The app, which is available in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Catalan, uses the phone’s internal camera to determine where you are standing and then provides a 3D map steering you toward a desired location.
“Our solution is hardware free. We don’t need to go and install anything in these places,” said Frida Issa, a 31-year-old engineer of computer science and management information systems, who is co-founder of GeniusMatcher.
It’s also light on battery use. Whereas a mobile map from Google, for example, might continue providing directions even when it’s in your pocket, Mally only navigates when you need it. Now, a two-hour trip to the neighborhood mega-mall won’t leave you with a dead phone.
“We don’t want that experience draining your battery,” Issa explained.
Lest you worry about entering a shopping center full of screen-bound strangers with no time to talk, by the end of 2013, Mally’s developers hope to have social functions fully integrated into the application, allowing users to meet old friends or make new acquaintances based on who else is in the mall and using the program.
Another tech company in Haifa, WiseSec, is approaching the indoor GPS field with its own set of directions.
Providing facilities with the ability to block mobile cameras, microphones, “or anything that the security administrator views as a data leakage hazard,” WiseSec’s location-based technology has been in use in Israel for two years already, says Asaf Toledano, 40, the firm’s vice president of business development.
But while WiseSec’s origin is in security, its future is in retail.
Employees at the Moscow Mall, a shopping center in the Russian capital with 5,000 stores selling products to 35,000 people a day, are currently testing WiseBy, the Israeli company’s mobile app for shopping navigation.
Compared to Mally, WiseSec’s program is highly customizable for both shoppers and store owners. When customers enter a mall that uses the app, they can search by category and locate a specific store using a 3D map. Consumers can see which destinations offer in-store coupons and promotions, and retailers even have the ability to offer deals to shoppers browsing in certain parts of their store.
Toledano told The Media Line that his company is partnering with some of the largest stores in the world (Target, Wolworths, to name a couple) and has pilot programs with a major fast-food company and a telecommunication provider in the United States. What sets WiseSec apart is its accuracy.
“We manage to get a very precise location,” he said. “The best in the industry.”
That’s a bold claim in a field where, in March, the indoor-GPS start-up WiFiSlam was acquired by Apple for $20 million.
“It’s a hot area,” says Dr. Bruce Kurlwich, a tech analyst who’s been covering developments in indoor location positioning for two years and recently wrote for Geek Time about four Israeli companies with vastly different ideas about how to get real time, indoor directions to the masses in malls. “About a year ago, people would have said, ‘NO, you can’t use GPS indoors.’”
Back in March, a week before Apple bought WiFiSlam, Kurlwich predicted that indoor location positioning technology was nearing a tipping point, and his tech research firm, Grizzly Analytics, released a 268-page report about the state of the industry.
Though some companies brought their mobile tools public more than a year ago, and research has been going on for far longer, Israeli innovators now hope to tip the balance.
As GeniusMatcher and WiseSec launched trials of their apps, other local players, like NavIn and IndoorGo, have come out of the shadows and revealed the depth and variety of indoor-locating creativity in Israel.
Utilizing technologies with names out of a science fiction novel -- “sensor fusion,” “radio signal fingerprinting,” “computer vision” and “bluetooth low-energy beacons” -- each of the start-ups in Israel hopes to be the best catch in a sea of developers trying to prove that, yes, you can use accurate 3D maps to help people move around inside.
And while consumers may increasingly be able to get around malls, museums, airports and concert halls using indoor GPS, says Dr. Kurlwich, “There’s no one leader in any of these areas.”
“We’re now at the point where everybody is aware of the technology,” he told The Media Line. “Now it has to spread more and improve.” 
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