If you own a smartphone, you would be aware of location-based services. Most apps today provide you information based on where are you at the time of requesting that piece of info, be it about choosing an Italian restaurant in your vicinity or finding your way through an unknown one-way in your city that you entered to avoid traffic, or serving you targeted ads. Most of these applications work based on knowing the users’ location, but what if you want to find out locations of others?
Bangalore-based Nivaata has launched Verayu, a solution that works without a GPS device, and lets you track locations of your taxis, transport trucks, or delivery boys, or even your buddies, if they permit you to do so. It also provides a cloud based LBS platform API offering that helps enterprises to easily integrate location intelligence into their business processes and systems. The system provides an on-demand, non-intrusive, permissions-based location tracking and sharing platform that has no impact on battery life. It is focused specifically on the “where-are-you” problem, as opposed to the “where-am-i” problem solved by most other location-based services.
Currently the system is suitable for B2B companies, who sign up with Verayu for various solutions like mSFA, mCRM, Transport Management, and logistics. The tracking can be done either through a pre-configured mobile phone, or a proprietary device called Yantra. A fixed fee per trackee per month is charged for services, and queries/alerts (SMS and IVR alerts) are based on volume.
How does it work?
Verayu is a strictly push based, no-checkin based system (though checking-in is an option to confirm one’s location with relation to a PoI). It can work on pretty much any phone, from the high-end Android Jelly Bean toting Galaxies to small feature phones with no GPS/GPRS. Provided all necessary permissions have been set up, it is possible to ping the phone remotely and non-intrusively by the tracker, through one-click on the browser, one SMS, one call to the IVR, or one touch on Verayu tracker app available for J2ME, Symbian, BlackBerry, Android, or iOS.
Since the service has to be set up with respect to cell towers, an initial “city seed scan” is done in every new city that scans all the cell towers in the city that takes 5-15 days in their own internal coordinates. Post-deployment, the database grows by self-learning.
The underlying technology
Determining whether a cell-phone is moving or not, simply by using available cell tower information on the mobile itself (without GPS hardware requirement), is the core of the technology behind Verayu. When the client app detects phone movement of sufficient distance, it starts conveying information (location packets) at a programmed interval to the Verayu server, where the current location is recorded and path tracing is done using “Path Adaptive Cell Clustering Technology” (PACCT) on the cloud using available info from that region’s ‘profile’. When the client app understands it is stationary, it simply throttles down the update frequency (as programmed), and the server renders the location using nearby PoI’s, which is again based on user profiling as opposed to the region’s profile.
So, the system can have two states:
- Idling (no-trip state): responds to ping requests from server (push in, GPRS/SMS reply, back to idle, no continuous updates), absolutely no battery or bandwidth impact.
- Active Tracking (trip mode): detect motion / speed using cell-tower info only, auto switch On/Off GPS if GPS hardware available, throttle up/down location update frequency.
The mobile state machine is remotely controlled through cloud API; the client app does not have any user interface, it strictly syncs with server’s state machine across reboots.
Sriram Kannan, the founder of Nivaata, and the man behind the technology, has filed a patent on PACCT in India, and also a PCT application for the rest of the world. There are a few more patents in the pipeline, which he did not disclose as of now. “There are quite a few challenges to cell-tower based tracking accuracy, but we’ve found out that a lot can be done by profiling the cell-tower arrangement in a city. On the technology front, I feel we’ve just started scratching the surface. We have been able to implement only a part of our IP/ ideas, and the results tend to get far better as we continue with our efforts, and also with more and more user additions to the system”, mentions Sriram.
Not only you, also me
Verayu, a distortion of “where-are-you”, also provides “where-am-i” [Verami?] type of services, for specific use cases in B2B. For example, finding nearby customers, taking geotagged pictures, setting up location based reminders, etc. Rolling out B2C applications for self-location is in the pipeline. More than just SMS/ Voice, Verayu will have an app with a user-interface for where-am-I applications.
API and developer tools
Verayu aims to provide a Location-as-a-Service (Laas) by means of a Verayu Locations-on-Demand (LoD) a very powerful, simple to use REST API. Once Verayu client is installed on the mobile phone to be tracked, retrieving the location of the mobile phone is as simple as calling a URL specifying the mobile number. Verayu LoD API is currently in private beta, and you can be a part of the beta program by reaching out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Led by Sriram Kannan, Nivaata is a team of 8 people, and have raised four rounds of angel funding totalling $250K, and a confirmed (but undisclosed) round of institutional funding.
On being asked about relations with carriers, Sriram replies
“We do not have to partner with wireless carriers, as we control the full chain end-to-end, but we have operators using our system (and paying) for their own internal use (sales force automation). We also have a few strategic wireless carrier partnerships, to roll out the platform for a few key verticals, that are infeasible to cater to as a startup. We have already partnered with RIM (we are their preferred service partner for LBS solutions in India), as well as a partnership brewing with other OEM’s as we speak.”
With the Government enforcing telecom operators to track location with 95% accuracy, products like Verayu have an easier means of implementation and will provide more accurate results. LBS and LaaS are yet to grow big in India, companies like Nivaata and products like Verayu are laying the foundation stones. What do you think? Does Verayu have a fair chance? Shoot out your opinions in the comments section below.