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What Is Location Fusion and Why is It Essential for Micromobility?

Location Fusion blends GPS, Wi-Fi, and Cellular location data to ensure your vehicles' location is accurately mapped. Learn why micromobility will need this capability to win in new markets.

Mariano Goluboff article author avatarMariano GoluboffOctober 20, 2021
What Is Location Fusion and Why is It Essential for Micromobility?

Locating IoT devices seems straightforward with a global navigation satellite system, or GNSS —more commonly termed a global positioning system. But while GPS is the primary method of geolocation and provides the best accuracy, the reality is that it doesn’t work in every situation. 

For example, if a device is indoors or surrounded by tall city buildings, it might not be able to receive satellite signals. 

To compensate for the limitations of GPS, it’s helpful to use different sources of geolocation information, particularly Wi-Fi and cellular, as backups. This is known as Location Fusion, and it’s a critical part of an IoT ecosystem for micromobility, where accurate location data is the difference between success and failure. Using all the available tools can help devices provide better and more accurate location information to users and operators.

What Is Location Fusion?

Despite the name, “location fusion” doesn’t actually fuse together location information from each source. Instead, it chooses the best available source at the moment to calculate an accurate location reading. Let’s take a closer look at the three possible sources.

GNSS (GPS)

With GPS, a device receives signals from satellites, performs some complex mathematics, and determines exactly where it is in the world—to a precise accuracy of 1.5–5 meters. But GPS often struggles in indoor spaces, such as parking garages, when the roof blocks the satellite signal. 

In cities, urban canyons can also pose problems for GPS connectivity. For example, if a connected scooter is parked on a street surrounded by tall buildings, the satellite signal might be partially blocked, preventing an accurate calculation. 

A similar phenomenon known as GPS ghosting can also occur when signals bounce off buildings or other objects and confuse receiver data in what is called a multipath effect. When the GPS signal is interrupted, a device equipped with location fusion can move on to the second most accurate location-finding technology: Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi

Every Wi-Fi access point has a unique address and is part of a database cataloging its location. When the IoT device has access to this database, it can triangulate a location estimate based on which Wi-Fi signals it detects. 

Because there are so many Wi-Fi access points around the world—particularly in urban areas—Wi-Fi location can generally achieve 10–20 meters of accuracy. In more remote areas where Wi-Fi access points are sparse or nonexistent, cellular towers can provide a third option for geolocation calculation.

Cellular Towers

If an IoT device uses cellular connectivity or has a way to detect nearby towers, it can use that information to triangulate its location. Cellular is the least precise of the three calculation methods, typically achieving about 1000 meters of accuracy—but it’s still a helpful tool in certain situations.=

Particle’s TrackerOne and TrackerSOM hardware are both equipped with location fusion, tapping into GPS, Wi-Fi, and cellular geolocation data as needed to provide the best available location information. 

A visual representation of Location Fusion.

Particle uses Location Fusion to help micromobility operators get precise location data.

How Location Fusion Benefits Micromobility Operators

Micromobility is a fast-growing industry and a significant opportunity for IoT developers. Ridesharing has the potential to lighten urban road congestion, saving time for travelers and reducing pollution and economic losses for cities. But for micromobility operators, effective fleet management solutions will help ensure that riders and operators have access to accurate location data.

If customers can’t find an available scooter or can’t navigate around the city, they’re going to seek other alternatives. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of location fusion for micromobility use cases.

  1. Redundancy

If a user parks a connected scooter or another micromobility vehicle in a roofed area or a street with limited overhead visibility, its hardware might lose the GPS signal. 

In cases like these, location fusion provides redundancy—the ability to switch to another source of geolocation data—to verify the vehicle’s location. Providing redundancy acts as an insurance policy for micromobility operators, giving them additional options if one geolocation system isn’t working. 

  1. Regulatory Compliance

As micromobility vehicles become more common in urban environments, cities have introduced regulatory measures to help manage traffic and monitor usage. One example is the Mobility Data Specification, designed to standardize mobility vehicle data and share it more easily between municipalities and private micromobility providers. 

Improving the quality of your fleet location data can enhance MDS and other regulatory compliance tasks, winning you favor with local authorities.

  1. Reliability

A potential urban rider needs to find a scooter, so they pull out a smartphone. The app tells them there’s a scooter at the corner of the next street, but it’s not there when they arrive. The scooter’s hardware relies on GPS geolocation alone, and because it’s parked inside an urban canyon, the signal is garbled. 

Frustrated, the rider opens a competing micromobility operator’s app and uses it to find a nearby vehicle. Because the rider finds the second provider more reliable, they become a regular customer. Your riders will appreciate the added reliability location fusion provides—and when a vehicle goes missing and you need to find it quickly, so will you. 

  1. Premium User Experience

When you can provide a dependable user experience, you’ll earn repeat customers. Riders can find your vehicles easily and enjoy uninterrupted navigation assistance as they’re in motion. Location fusion contributes to a premium experience that keeps riders coming back for more.

Building Location Fusion Technology Into Micromobility Vehicles

One core way that manufacturers of light electric vehicles can differentiate their products is with Location Fusion. Operators need vehicles that can provide them and the cities they operate in with accurate location data. 

Tracking where trips begin and end is a vital part of driving revenue for both operators and cities. Moreover, location data helps cities determine their progress toward transportation equity and infrastructure goals. 

While it’s possible to build location fusion technology into your own hardware designs, taking the DIY approach presents some challenges. To add Wi-Fi geolocation capabilities to your device, you’ll need to pay a company for access to a global database listing all the access points and software that can scan that information and use it to triangulate location information.

But if you incorporate Particle hardware in your device, we’ve already handled those negotiations for you. Location fusion is included with your TrackerOne or T SOM at no additional charge—all you need to do is turn it on. 

The Particle cloud uses a third-party geolocation service to provide these additional location services as backup when the GPS signal is lacking. 

Micromobility operators and manufacturers can’t ignore the advancements in IoT that will make their success possible. Learn how Particle’s integrated IoT Platform-as-a-Service can be an ideal foundation for IoT-connected electric vehicles.

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