back to article Microsoft tries to re-invent GPS with cloudy offloads

Microsoft has released a tool that it hopes will make it possible to add location-sensing abilities to many more devices. The Microsoft Cloud-Offloaded GPS Experimental Kit is part of an effort to gather location data from GPS satellites without using much power. That's important because, as Microsoft explains, few applications …

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Random thoughts

1 - It sounds very similar to Assisted GPS, but with the maths done in the cloud rather than on the device.

2 - To do the maths in the cloud, you're going to need to fire up a radio (Either WiFi or 3G/4G) to send & receive the data & results to the cloud. How does the power consumption of using the radio compare to the CPU power to crunch the GPS numbers?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Random thoughts

Probably should read the article again, this isnt for realtime GPS, its for post processing / logging to extend the devices life:

"the device comprises a GPS receiver, battery and SD card slot.... devices cannot go online: users must gather their SD cards to upload data into a PC"

Could be used for devices that do have a transmitter and do not need to have the GPS info right away, for say photos, if they are tagged, could batch process the info before uploading to save power.

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Re: Random thoughts

It is A-GPS, specifically the MSA variant. And it does reduce the amount of processing necessary on the device, but on the other hand you do have to transmit the raw GPS data over GPRS or some other service, which of itself uses some power. And really it's all snake oil anyway, because the reason battery life is poor when GPS apps are running is simply that those apps are keeping on running in the background instead of being suspended. MSA A-GPS will make virtually no difference to that.

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WiFi modem geolocation

I may be wrong, but I had the impression that Google still very actively geolocates WiFi modems and continues to use the data generated for coarse location tracking, no fearing to tread about it.

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Re: WiFi modem geolocation

Indeed; they got into trouble for capturing unencrypted content from access points, not for simply recording their location.

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Re: WiFi modem geolocation

Yup, that's why Maps works on my S3 even with GPS turned off. Consumes a lot less battery that way too.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: WiFi modem geolocation

Yup, that's why Maps works on my S3 even with GPS turned off. Consumes a lot less battery that way too.

and why some Nexus 5 users got confused as to why when they had disable Wifi they still saw it using power in the battery logs - disabling wifi just disables its use for network connections but still keeps it on to grab location info ... to totally turn wifi off you have to disable the location features.

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Re: WiFi modem geolocation

to totally turn wifi off you have to disable the location features

Can be important, because if you are using wifi to assist geolocation, but drive around somewhere where there is "open" wifi - where you can connect without a password but then need to perform a landing page logon in order to get internet access, you can get problems - your phone may drop your mobile data connection to connect to a wifi network from which it can get no information.

I discovered this driving round a university town with my GPS app failing everytime I got near a campus; eventually I realised what was happening, and told my phone to ignore open wifi.

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Facepalm

FRY

Perhaps this should be called a 'Fry-Moment' but "few applications drain a mobile device's battery more rapidly than contacting satellites." is just wrong when spoken about in reference to GPS. Receivers listen passively to satellite signals, they don't contact them. I thought everyone in El Reg knew this by now? Or that just Microsoft redefining the standard again?

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"few applications drain a mobile device's battery more rapidly than contacting satellites"

This seems to be a really common misconception about GPS. The handset is never "contacting" the satellites. Instead it just listens to them - pure GPS is an entirely passive technology.

(Admittedly this makes me wonder how manufacturers manage to get GPS so wrong - I realise that there's some fairly intensive number-crunching taking place on GPS chips, but the battery drain involved in doing so should not be that high.)

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Can't think of many applications for this

The only thing I can think of so far is a digital camera. Pictures can be geotagged whilst you're out without waiting for acquisition times and without draining the battery too much. Then when you transfer the pictures on to your computer you can calculate the actual locations.

It doesn't work for any kind of live GPS system because your power saving is going to be outweighed by the power use from the data send/receive. Also GPS will stop working if you have no mobile signal.

There's no point for anything with an engine because the power used by GPS is peanuts compared to that generated by the engine.

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Coat

Hang on, this is too good

So, Miss CLEO is now going to assist us in divining our position ?

Who on God's Green Earth (tm) is making up these acronyms ?

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Anonymous Coward

Does it really take that much power?

Aren't there GPS watches that can keep track of location for 50+ hours on one charge of a small watch battery? And if GPS uses so much power, why am I able to use a turn-by-turn navigation app on my iPhone 5S for several hours before the battery runs down, and that's with the screen on, 3-D rendering, and whatever network communication is required to download maps and traffic data etc.?

Maybe GPS used a lot of power a while ago but I assume all that calculation is now handled by dedicated logic that has undergone many generations of power reduction by now. In short, I wonder if there's a point to what Microsoft is trying to do here.

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Re: Does it really take that much power?

Wow, do people really still stream maps? I thought that was all stored on the phone now :)

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Re: Does it really take that much power?

> Maybe GPS used a lot of power a while ago but I assume all that calculation is now handled by dedicated logic

True for some dedicated devices certainly.

But it seems smart-phones (and, based on experience of battery life when not plugged in, car sat-nav units) don't have such specialist hardware, rather using their CPUs to perform the calculations.

Just calculating the position wouldn't be too bad, but then that calculation is done repeatedly to track position and velocity changes, then transforming and laying out the map display in real time to match…

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Re: Does it really take that much power?

P.s. GPS watches just keep track of TIME signals from GPS satellites. They don't track your location, and so they don't need to do calculations or work out where satellites are in relation to each other etc.

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"contacting" satelites

GPS systems do not "contact" satellites. They merely listen to them as they go past. I can't imagine that a radio reciever - or twelve paralel ones - is the real problem with power consumption compared to the processing.

I should be used to Redmond talking bollox.

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Anonymous Coward

More devices with geo-location?

Why would anyone with more than a few working brain cells would want this?

Aren't there enough things already phoning home?

I use GPS for geo-tagging my pictures taken with my DSLR and for the occasional bit of sat-nav and that is it. For the life of me I can't think why I'd need anything else. It have been disabled on my phone since I got it and it will stay that way for good.

An answer waiting for a question perhaps?

Because I want to reduce the number of people tracking me, I'm going A/C

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Re: More devices with geo-location?

Why would anyone with more than a few working brain cells would want this?

If I'm meeting up with my kids, for instance, its useful for us all to know where everybody is in real time: try meeting people in a post concert crowd, for instance.

I've used device GPS to find out where I left my phone several times, including once where I'd lost it in a field - might be useful for devices other than phones. I'm often curious as to the precise route I took somewhere, even if I wasn't using navigation at the time.

So much for convential GPS, but what about this? Wel, how about a low power consumption tracker embedded in valuable items? These could tell investigators, when recovered, where the objects have been. As such devices would be passive until then, they would be harder for the villains to detect and remove or disable.

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Heavy signal processing?

The reason for the 30 second delay to acquire a position lock on GPS is because that's how long it takes the GPS network to broadcast a complete set of ephemeris data, which is needed for a cold-start position lock. Hot start or AGPS can drastically reduce first fix time. The amount of actual computation done is pretty trivial, you can do that on less than 100 micro amps @3.3V, the RF subsystem takes far more power than this.

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I would assume that Microsoft has Wifi location info, just like Google, as they have their own streetview cars. Microsoft's streetview has pretty decent coverage, considering the head start Google has had. Also, if you have a Windows 8 box, check out the maps preview app. Lots of cool high res 3d models in select areas. (It's still a beta)

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dyslexia check

Did anyone else mistake "offloads" as "offroads"? I almost spit my coffee...

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Coat

MS-Assisted

Methinks this is the GPS standard known as MS-Assisted in SUPL where the handset (Mobile Station) tracks the satellites but sends the timings to the server for solution. The more usual mode of operation is MS-Based.... decades old. Possibly their new idea is storing a snapshot of tracking data (or raw data?!) for post-processing when you later geotag your picture or graph your marathon...

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nothing new

There was something called the NAVSYS "TrackTag" from about a decade ago that did the same thing. Perhaps Microsoft didn't do any literature searches before publishing.

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bed

Cell Tower Locations

aka Mobile Phone Base Station Locations

Mostly, in the UK anyway, cell tower locations are not a secret, there is a datbase of them, and mobile phones can make a reasonable stab of locating themselves by triangulating on the signals the accuracy of which depends, of course, on the number of signals available,

http://sitefinder.ofcom.org.uk/

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