Most maps-based apps use GPS to locate and track devices. But sometimes GPS isn't available. For example, if you're in the middle of a city, skyscrapers can block your line of sight to enough GPS satellites to get a fix on your position. GPS circuits and sensors are also relatively large and power hungry, so you can't use them to track anything where size and weight are an issue.When GPS doesn't work, what you need is geolocation. Instead of looking for GPS satellites, geolocation sniffs out signals from WiFi routers, mobile phone towers and beacons. By combining the strength of the various signals being detected with knowledge of where they're being broadcast from, you can calculate how far you are from each signal and triangulate to get a fix on your position. As well as working in areas where GPS coverage is patchy but there are lots of WiFi signals, like city centres, geolocation devices are also much smaller and lighter and use less power.
Businesses that are already taking advantage of geolocation today, using the Google Maps Geolocation API, include:
- Enevo, a Finnish provider of waste and recycling services, which has added sensors and geolocation to waste containers. When the sensor detects the container is full, the bin "dials home" and tells Enevo not only that there's a container in need of emptying but exactly where to find it. Instead of sending out trucks on fixed routes on fixed days, Enevo can flexibly schedule trucks to go only where they're needed – and customers get their bins emptied more quickly.
- Pod Trackers, which has created one of the smallest and lightest pet trackers on the market using geolocation and bluetooth. Combined with other features in Google Maps, Pod Trackers' Pod can raise the alarm if your pet strays outside a "virtual fence" and monitor your how active your pet is.
- Doctor on Demand, which is using geolocation to match patients with available doctors so they can be seen much more quickly. Although consultations are provided by video, geolocation is vital, as it ensures patients are only connected with doctors licensed to practice in their area. It also allows doctors to send prescriptions to pharmacies local to the patient for pick up.
If you want to find out more about geolocation, come and talk to our Google Maps specialists.
Updated July 2020
First published August 2017