Israeli startup uses magnetic fields to provide accurate indoor navigation

Tel Aviv wayfinder company Oriient works with supermarket chains, retailers to allow shoppers to find their way inside spaces

A multiple-story supermarket. Illustrative. (Photo via Pixabay via Pexels)
A multiple-story supermarket. Illustrative. (Photo via Pixabay via Pexels)

Standard navigation technology can handily get you from one end of an unfamiliar city to another but it can’t help you locate your favorite brand of pasta, for example, in a supermarket. This realization dawned on Israeli entrepreneur Amiram Frish as he was hunting for such an item in a grocery store one day, over six years ago, while growing increasingly frustrated.

It occurred to him that navigating a shopping mall, an office complex, a hospital, or a massive store can be uniquely challenging.

In 2016, Frish, an expert in geoprocessing, took on this challenge and established, a startup that offers indoor navigation technology for retailers and smart building operators.

He spent the first two years figuring out what doesn’t work. He ruled out GPS and found that building Bluetooth-based hardware infrastructure was cumbersome and costly. Ultimately, Frish discovered that every spot indoors has a unique magnetic field, and with additional funding in 2019, developed an app that uses geomagnetics to pinpoint indoor locations accurately within a one-meter radius.

Tel Aviv-based forged a partnership with MapsPeople, Google’s official partner for indoor maps, to also offer a holistic navigation solution including Google Maps for outdoors.

According to Or Shin, chief business officer at Oriient, the revenue opportunity for in-store navigation services just for US grocery stores is estimated at $2 billion a year. Gartner projects the market for indoor location services to reach global revenue of $55 billion by 2030, which includes asset tracking, people tracking, location analytics and wayfinding.

The Oriient navigation app. (Courtesy)

“Especially now, with the availability of service staff dwindling, customers must become more independent,” explained Or.

With the system fully developed, Oriient signed a partnership with Google, which is making the Israeli company’s location services available on the Google Cloud Marketplace as a software development kit for both iOS and Android apps. Retailers who use Google Cloud will be able to use the solution to allow consumers to find the products they are looking for in large stores and navigate by shopping list.

When the company announced its $11 million funding round in May, Oriient also made public a partnership with online shopping platform InstaCart to integrate geolocation technology for its professional shoppers in hundreds of stores.

Others in the indoor navigation space like Spreo, another Israeli company, use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies. And Nav-in, while using similar technology, focuses on wayfinding in health facilities and universities.

The Oriient technology is used in tandem with a supermarket’s app to help shoppers create a journey based on their shopping list to help them navigate the store and locate the desired products.

In another perk for retailers, the store can use the geo-location data to pass along coupons and loyalty offers in real-time, as shoppers are tracked on their journey through each section of the supermarket. If an associate is really needed (“cleanup on aisle 3”), a shopper can use the app to summon someone to their precise location. The app also gathers anonymized tracking data, such as where shoppers spend more time, to offer better insights to the grocery companies.

According to Or, the app is being utilized in hundreds of supermarkets in the United States and is piloted in stores in the UK and in Germany. He declined to specify, citing proprietary disclosure issues.

The Oriient team in Israel. (Courtesy)

The technology is useful to retailers who are looking to bring customers back into brick-and-mortar stores, post-COVID, and expand their customer offerings, according to Carrie Tharp, VP of Retail at Google Cloud. When shoppers decide to forgo the delivery option, they demand convenience.

“Retailers around the globe are rapidly shifting their business strategies to account for the accelerated change in consumer behaviors and shopping preferences,” Tharp said in a statement announcing the Google-Oriient partnership.

“We’re excited to have Oriient’s location services available on Google Cloud Marketplace so organizations have access to the technologies they need to evolve the in-store shopping experience at scale,” she added.

Or was quick to point out that Oriient was more than just a shopping solution.

“Our vision is not to stay in retail,” he noted. “We would like to optimize hospitals, airports, universities, and large corporate campuses. We are currently in a pilot with a 60-building pharmaceutical complex. We help visitors and employees navigate to offices, labs, and throughout the building complex. The company also uses the app to collect data about which rooms are being used and in what capacity to see how the layout can be optimized… [and] for facility management.”

Investor Jonathan Sachs, founder and managing partner at F2 Venture Capital, said in a press release announcing Oriient’s most recent funding that Oriient’s tech was sound and that it could likely be used in many indoor spaces.

“Previous generation technologies cannot compete because they require expensive hardware that is difficult to install and maintain and are not as accurate as Oriient. We estimate that in a few years, we will see Oriient in almost every closed commercial complex,” said Sachs.

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