Russian search engine giant Yandex acquires KitLocate

The Moscow-based company is opening an R&D center in Israel after its purchase of the geolocation start-up

The KitLocate team (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The KitLocate team (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Yet another multinational is setting up shop in Israel. Russian search engine giant Yandex this week acquired Israeli location technology start-up KitLocate. Details of the deal were not revealed, but sources close to KitLocate said that Yandex paid as much as $20 million for the Tel Aviv-based company.

Whatever it paid for his company, said KitLocate CEO Omri Moran, Yandex is going to get its money worth, and more. “Yandex is like Google, in that they are a search engine and have a lot of apps that provide many services, many of them geolocation and map based.” KitLocate’s approach to geolocation is different than that of others doing location technologies — resulting in not only a new set of services KitLocate can offer customers, but also in substantial battery savings, said Moran.

“That’s actually how we got together with Yandex,” Moran told The Times of Israel in an exclusive interview. “They have been looking for technology to extend battery life for some time, and we came across each other, resulting in a deal that is going to benefit both entities, as well as customers.”

KitLocate gets its battery saving abilities (according to Moran, phones using the KitLocate platform can get as many as 24 hours of normal use out of a single battery charge) by looking beyond the GPS chip for location information. In addition to GPS, KitLocate collects data about a user’s activities via wifi, accelerometers, and other sensors in the device.

Omri Moran (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Omri Moran (Photo credit: Courtesy)

“In order to do location properly, you need statistics and information about a user’s habits that you can analyze to keep track of what a person is doing,” Moran said. “This allows apps to anticipate needs and spring into action when necessary, and it also reduces the strain on the battery, because not all sensors have to be running at all times in order to ensure that a user gets the services they want.”

A lot of location services are contextual, said Moran, and as the context changes, the tools used to determine location — and what services should be supplied — change as well. “For example, if a person is driving on a highway and the next exit is ten miles away and we see that traffic in the area is light, we don’t need to check the GPS chip every five seconds to determine location.” Polling can be less frequent; thus, said Moran, the device will use less power, and the battery will last longer.

Data is another important element in the KitLocate toolkit. The system makes novel use of geo-fencing, a system that takes specific actions based on where a user is located. Using data the system collects on habits — what stores users frequent, even which sections of a store they are more interested in (i.e., the mens or ladies department), KitLocate allows businesses to proactively offer users services and experiences they could otherwise not offer. The information is collected from the apps that use the KitLocate system, and analyzed by the powerful big data apps.

As a search company, Yandex is naturally interested in big data, although Moran said he could not say at this point exactly what missions KitLocate would be assigned. The company will now become the nucleus of Yandex’s new Israel R&D center, and presumably the current staff of 8 will be expanded, perhaps substantially, as Yandex integrates KitLocate into its development projects.

“KitLocate’s technology, packed into a developer-friendly SDK, provides location capabilities, including geo-fencing, motion detection and social location, for location-based apps on the user’s iOS or Android smartphone,” said Yandex in a statement. “The trick is, while doing that it lowers battery power consumption down to less than 1% per hour. KitLocate’s algorithms allow location-based apps to request the device’s geographic coordinates less frequently without losing precision, which considerably extends the phone’s life between charges.

“Those of Yandex’s mobile products that don’t need continuous GPS synching, such as our location-based search, cannot wait to be augmented by KitLocate’s smart solution. With KitLocate’s technology, we’ll be able to deliver search results, as well as product or service offers, on the user’s mobile phone or tablet, relevant not only to a specific user, but also to their current location. This cloud solution looks especially promising for location-based recommendation apps,” the company said.

KitLocate is barely a year old, and was a graduate of the most recent class of start-up graduates of Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Israel. It was, in fact, through the program that Yandex found KitLocate, said Moran. “They did a presentation at MS Ventures listing the things they were looking for, and on their presentation was a bullet point on ”power efficient geolocation’ — and as it happens, we had a bullet point with that exact same name on our presentation.”

It was a meeting of the minds — or the bullet points that those minds created — that brought the two companies together, said Moran, adding that “we’re very glad to be a part of Yandex, and I know they are happy to have us as well.”

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