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Navigating the Great Indoors

The smartphone industry is gearing up to get you around when out of sight of GPS satellites

3 min read
STMicroelectronics and others want smartphones to get you around in malls and other indoor spaces.
Image: STMicroelectronics

Google, dumped by Apple as the iPhone’s default navigation app, is doing more than chortling at Apple’s well-documented mapping troubles. It’s fighting back with more navigation features, many likely intended for use indoors. And a number of major mobile device makers and cellphone service providers have teamed up to develop a standard for indoor navigation, an effort that neither Google nor Apple is part of. 

Indoor navigation technology is going to be quite a bit different from its outdoor counterpart. Outdoors, navigation relies for the most part on GPS, whose accuracy ranges from 1 to 10 meters. Indoors, because of attenuation and scattering, GPS falls apart. And even outdoors, GPS is vertically challenged; it’s about one-third as accurate at pinpointing your elevation as it is at telling where you are on the ground. In other words, even if you do get a signal inside, it’s unlikely that GPS will have any idea whether you’re trying to navigate the first, second, or third floor of your local shopping mall. 

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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