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Where’s the beef? Israeli startup finally delivers indoor GPS

Oriient taps the Earth’s magnetic field to deliver indoor location data

The Oriient app brings GPS indoors (Oriient)\
The Oriient app brings GPS indoors (Oriient)\

Ten years ago, just before the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, Amiram Frish’s wife sent him to the supermarket to buy honey, traditionally eaten on the holiday to symbolize a sweet new year.

“I walked around for a half hour looking for the honey – I kid you not,” says Frish, CTO and co-founder of Oriient, an Israeli startup. “They had moved it next to the dates because of the holiday. I said to myself: This is crazy, someone needs to solve the indoor positioning problem.”

Ten years later, Frish and his colleagues at Oriient believe they have done exactly that. Measuring slight changes in the earth’s magnetic field, their technology enables users to find their way around inside buildings, the same way that Waze enables drivers to navigate outside.

Waze and Google Maps use orbiting satellites for navigating, but signals from those satellites do not reach consistently inside buildings or underground. Existing indoor positioning technology uses either beacons which require heavy investment in infrastructure, or systems that need Wi-Fi and are inaccurate.

Oriient offers similar technology for indoor navigation without the need for either infrastructure or Wi-Fi, using tiny distortions in the earth’s magnetic field to help users find their way.

“Have you ever gone hiking?” Frish asks. “Every trail has unique ups and downs. If you would measure every bump in the road you could distinguish between that and any other trail. It’s quite similar to what’s happening indoors with the magnetic field. When you traverse the indoor environment, the steel and iron in the infrastructure creates a magnetic typology similar to hiking.”

Outside, the magnetic field is constant and always points at magnetic north. People have been using magnetic north to navigate ever since the directional compass was invented during China’s Han dynasty 2,000 years ago. But once you enter a building, a magnetometer, which is built into almost all smartphones, can use the slight distortions in the magnetic field to help you find your way.

When successfully adopted, Oriient will be able to help people navigate their way around all sorts of large buildings and underground facilities, including shopping malls, hospitals, car parks and airports.

Recalling Frish’s honey experience, the technology is currently being used mostly in grocery stores. The user can put a list of products into the app, and it will map out the most efficient path through the store, ensuring that the shopper finds everything they want to buy.

About one third of shoppers leave a store without buying an item they had planned to, because they give up looking for it after just a few minutes, says Mickey Balter, Oriient CEO and co-founder. Retailers have seen customers look for an item and, after a few minutes, go onto Amazon on their phone, while they are still in the store, and buy it from there.

Preliminary trials show that using Oriient could increase revenue from the average grocery basket by 3 to 5 percent. Each percentage point equals $8 billion a year in increased sales.

“The grocery retail market is an early adopter of our technology,” Balter says. “Because of Covid-19, they are looking to enhance location services in their stores. If the shopper is using the mobile phone in the store, you can better understand their journey and better communicate with them.”

The application also offers an opportunity to influence shopping choices, giving users “a chance to discover new items and new categories in areas you may not know,” he says.

For example, as you walk by the toothpaste, a message could pop up offering you a discount coupon on a new brand. As you pass the spices, you could see a recipe using thyme or rosemary.

Oriient matches a shopping list to the layout of a store to map out the quickest route (Oriient)

Balter says he understands privacy concerns, but while the application can detect shoppers and register what they are buying, their identities remain anonymous.

Each building must be individually mapped, and Oriient is hiring local partners to do this. So far, the company has mapped 500 buildings around the world, including in Mexico, Japan, Israel and the US. It takes just a few hours to map a small building, which basically requires somebody to just walk around the building with a smartphone. The company has recently developed ways to do this remotely, which will also enable the work to proceed more quickly.

Oriient has signed deals with major carriers and third-party grocery delivery services, and is in negotiations with other large retailers in the US and Europe. The company is experiencing rapid growth in sales in 2021, and sales are expected to leap again in 2022. The company is currently raising an investment round, open to accredited investors through Jerusalem-based OurCrowd.

Frish observes that 20 years ago GPS was used only for military applications – today, outdoor GPS applications, including Google Maps, Waze and Uber generate $300 billion a year.

“We spend 90 percent of our time indoors,” Frish says. “In five years, we’re going to be the biggest thing that happened since Google Maps.”

For more information about Oriient and investing through OurCrowd, click HERE

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