The scenario is becoming increasingly familiar to anyone who pays attention to the news or social media: a unpredictable lethal incident of some sort is underway. It could involve bombs, guns or other weapons. It could be terrorists, lone wolves, protestors or anti-protestors. Between news helicopters and smartphone users in the vicinity, a deadly incident gets livestreamed to the Internet in realtime. But the one group of people who lack critical real-time logistical information, particularly when indoor spaces are involved (as was the case this week in Las Vegas) are the first responders and their commanders whose only priority is resolve the situation in as little time as possible with as few casualties as possible.
The biggest problem? The world's Global Positioning System (GPS) is unreliable once first responders are inside of a building. Effective command in life-threatening situations depends on knowing where all your assets are. Especially now that the protocols for responding to such situations have been updated such that emergency personnel including unarmed EMTs are being deployed into buildings before those buildings are cleared of danger (in the interest of saving lives). For those in charge of directing the response, a 3D view showing the location of police, fire, and medical assets once they're inside a building can be a major advantage; much the same way the commander of the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) is able to follow the fictitious character Jack Bauer through air conditioning ducts and other interior spaces in the TV series 24.
But without indoor GPS, what's the solution?
Although the timing of her presentation was entirely coincidental, TRX Systems CEO and president Carol Politi was one of three presenters at this week's Government API meetup in Washington, DC. In a nutshell, TRX Systems overcomes the indoor GPS problem in the course of providing that realtime 3D view. I caught up with Politi for a podcast interview (embedded below) after she was done presenting.
"We often say that in the movies, 3D location has been working forever" said Politi referring to Hollywood productions like 24. "In real life, not so much. It's something that, you know, it's crystal clear when you watch that application and you watch him (Jack Bauer) and you see a commander helping to control that incident why it's needed. But day to day, people on the ground don't have access to it."
But Politi is trying to fix that with a 24-like solution that both consumes and provides APIs. Where indoor mapping data exists, courtesy of the standards set by the Open Geospacial Consortium (OGC), TRX has a healthy appetite for consuming information about indoor spaces. But where no data exists or the existing data is deserving of further augmentation, TRX's mobile applications turn ruggedized Android devices (Apple offers nothing comparable) into Star Trek-like Tricorders that can tell the difference between a hallway, an entrance, and an elevator in a way that not only helps commanders locate their assets (provided all first responders are accordingly equipped), but that also results in 3D maps of indoor and underground spaces that were previously impossible to auto-generate.
Once the 3D indoor mapping data exists, TRX makes that data available via API to developers looking to build other applications on top of the TRX platform.
There are of course other use-cases for such data beyond emergency response applications. In the podcast interview, Politi discusses some of those as well as the agencies that TRX is working with as it continues to improve its solutions:
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Full Transcript of David Berlind's Interview with Carol Politi
Editor's note: This full transcript includes time codes at one minute intervals. If you click on the time codes, it will take you to directly to that spot in the video on YouTube. We hope you like this feature.
David Berlind: I'm David Berlind, editor and chief of ProgrammableWeb and today is Tuesday, October 3rd. I'm in Washington, D.C at the D.C. Government API meetup. It's a very unique meetup where the various agencies of the U.S. Federal Government get together to discuss best practices and what's working and what's not, so that they can all get better at serving APIs. I'm standing with Carol Politi, she's the president and CEO of TRX Systems. Carol, thanks for taking the interview tonight.
Carol: Sure, thanks for having me.
David Politi: So, can you just tell us in a nutshell what it is TRX Systems does, because I saw the presentation and was pretty fascinated with what you guys are up to.
Carol: Sure. TRX delivers location and mapping indoors, underground and in dense urban areas. Areas where GPS is not available and where maps are hard to come by.
David: So, this is a really big problem in a variety of circumstances, right, because inside buildings, once you lose your connection to the GPS system, you kind [00:01:00] of lose your bearings and in some manner of speaking, the people who have the bearings lose track of you.
Carol: Right, right, especially if you're not an enterprise, you can't install infrastructure. If you're someone who's operating in a building that you don't own and you can't install beacon technology in a dense way, it's a really tough problem to solve.
David: What technology is at work there that is essentially hyper-locating somebody in a building or creating a map? Is it WiFi, is it something else?
Carol: We use the embedded sensors on your device, so accelerometer, compass, [atmospheric] pressure, gyroscope and then we fuse that with inferred environmental data. Things like, as you walk through the building, discovering WiFi grids, structure features, like entrances, exits, stairwells, elevators and we match those as you walk around to create a map but also to match to that map in order to locate you. It's very similar to robotics-land.
David: [00:02:00] How do you discover an entrance?
Carol: As you walk through an entrance the signal data changes. The GPS data changes, the light changes. So you can detect that you've transferred the pressure changes, that you've transferred into a structured space. As you go up an elevator, you're accelerating, there's a magnetic signature, the pressure's changing. You're using all that to place an elevator inside of the space. Then, as more and more people do that you get a higher degree of confidence.
David: So, in some ways, it's very much like a crowdsource data base the way traffic apps, like Waze use, where they're looking at the traffic data from a lot of different people who are on the road and helping to make you decide the best route to get to somewhere.
Carol: Yes, we also let our customers preplan their building, so that they can see that data, and then you can continue to learn and add to the data base as people operate in it.
David: So, [00:03:00] tough week this week. It was unplanned for you to be here, but it turns out that one of the primary applications for your technology is in the public safety space when it comes to indoor environments. You talked a little bit about public safety personnel, police, fire department, EMTs, that sort of thing, and this is the same week that we had the incident in Las Vegas. Talk a little bit about that application of public safety and your technology and how it could possibly be a game changer, particularly to maybe shorten the amount of time it takes to bring a situation like that to resolution.
Carol: So, yeah, certainly, these are, what we think are incredibly important applications. The public safety personnel spend much of their time operating in indoor spaces. When there's a [00:04:00] commander looking to manage an incident, if they can get an accurate view of where their people are, where their assets are to respond to an incident, they can improve their command effectiveness. So, one of the big pulls out of the public safety space has been to try to get a clear view of where all their personnel are operating in 3D when they're operating indoors. That's one of the key applications, certainly, that TRX is helping to serve.
David: It sounds a little bit like the show 24, because I'm a big fan of that show, and it's like they have this technology working when Jack Bauer is crawling through an air conditioner duct or something like that.
Carol: We often say that in the movies, 3D location has been working forever. In real life, not so much. It's something that, you know, it's crystal clear when you watch that application and you watch him and you see a commander helping to control that incident why it's needed, [00:05:00] but day to day, people on the ground don't have access to it.
David: Right. Well, you mentioned something about a protocol change. There's been a change of protocol under the circumstances, and because of this week's news, that has actually been a subject of the conversation that I've been listening to and reading about is this change in protocol about how emergency personnel no longer gather and form a plan, they just go. So, was that the protocol change that you were referring to?
Carol: One of the groups that we're working with, we're working on a project that's sponsored by NIST, to support delivering to law enforcement and fire fighters, this indoor location capability. We're partnered with Arlington County and Harris County as the users. One of the key applications that Arlington County had brought to us was the ability to locate personnel and specifically to respond to a new protocol where EMTs [00:06:00] are entering the building even after it's not fully cleared. So, there may be an active scenario happening in the building and the building may be cleared partially, but they want to respond very quickly and they want to send EMTs in to be able to help safeguard and start to respond to people that might be injured. In that case, it's really important that we understand where is law enforcement, where are EMTs, how does the incident get managed and can we better safeguard those responders who are working to safeguard us?
David: What do those responders need on their bodies in order to interact with your system?
Carol: We deliver our system in two configurations. One is on an Android device. Typically in the public safety community, that would be BN14 kind of hardened Android device, like it's delivered by Sonim, for example. And the other is on an Android device, plus an accessory device, a wearable accessory. That [00:07:00] wearable accessory is body mounted. It might be embedded in your vest and it's going to provide higher accuracy when you go inside of an environment that you've never been in before, because we're modeling human motion at the core, so if it's mounted very close to your body and not moving, we're going to give that first responder more accuracy.
David: Why not iOS, why just Android?
Carol: Well, most of the public safety devices are based on Android. Android also from a development environment allows us to access more data, more Wi-Fi data when we do localization and mapping.
David: For example?
Carol: For example, we grid out WiFi as you walk around the building in grids and then can match to them and we can do that on Android.
David: And iOS isn't capable with that at this moment?
Carol: There's not the API access for application developers.
David: Okay, and now we're getting to the famous acronym, API. Why ProgrammableWeb exists. Why this meetup exists. Tell me a little bit about where APIs are in action in this technology.
Carol: [00:08:00] So, a couple of different places. We use APIs to access map data and we're building more of those so as OGC comes out with more and more standards like indoor GML (Geography Markup Language), we're looking to leverage that, an existing kind of indoor map data to be able to actually match to it, to improve locations.
David: I'm sorry, OGC is what?
Carol: Open Geospacial Consortium. They're doing a lot of great work in standardizing indoor spaces, especially when it comes to navigation inside indoor spaces. The kind of data that we need. Then from an Android perspective, the API interfaces include taking in constraints from other systems. As terrestrial beacon technology gets out there, we can pull in constraints from that kind of technology to just continually improve location and make it really a living system that you can put on a device or a platform and improve it as new technology becomes available. And we send out 3D location, we send out building [00:09:00] data, we send out floor plan data so that apps that are being developed in the ecosystem can leverage that.
David: When you say send out it means that you have APIs that other app developers can access to build their own applications on top of your platform.
Carol: That's right.
David: Okay. We've talked about the public safety application, it's a particularly timely, time to talk about that, but there must be some other applications that you guys are thinking about.
Carol: A couple of other different applications that are used. One is signal and sensor mapping. A lot of carriers use this technology to make sure that their LTE networks have coverage inside indoor spaces and your phone calls can get out. Public safety personnel use it to make sure that they can map push-to-talk radios and they know that when they go into a school, they're going to be able to push-to-talk and get a voice connection to radios on the outside. We're also beginning to work with [The US Department of Transportation] and [00:10:00] their initiative to improve accessible navigation inside public transit venues. This will allow us to improve navigation for individuals with vision disabilities or with mobility disabilities and allow them to navigate based on the criteria they need.
David: Okay. Last question. People just heard something that they like and they want to get in touch with you, where can they find TRX?
David: Okay. Carol Politi, CEO and president of TRX Systems, thank you very much.
Carol: Thank you.
David: We've been talking with Carol Politi, the president and CEO of TRX Systems. We're at the D.C. API Government Meetup in Washington, D.C. Today is Tuesday, October 3. I'm David Berlind, editor in chief of ProgrammableWeb. Thank you for joining us at this podcast and come back to our SoundCloud channel where you can find more podcasts just like it.