Skyhook Wireless at Where 2.0

by Bruce Stewart

Nat Torkington, the co-chair of our upcoming Where 2.0 conference, just wrote an interesting post about Skyhook Wireless over on the O'Reilly Radar.

Over the coming weeks I'll be featuring the people, technology, and companies that we're having at Where 2.0. Today's company is Skyhook Wireless, a company from Intel Research. Skyhook's technology lets any device determine its position by triangulating wifi signals. You might have heard of Skyhook's technology before, as part of the open source Intel research project Place Lab. Skyhook represents the venture-backed commercial extension of this technology.

At the heart of Skyhook is a database of wifi basestation locations and proprietary algorithms for determining your location based on the strengths of the wifi basestations you can see. Each station has various confidence factors associated with it, and the patents are around how to combine those confidence factors to figure out the best guess at your current location. Because it's just algorithms and wifi, any wifi-enabled device can implement the algorithms, there's no extra hardware, and it works indoors (but not, obviously, where there's no wifi).

So Skyhook have built a location-sensing platform. But platforms are buggers to sell: you're a step removed from actual consumer needs, and there's a chicken-and-egg problem with applications (can you imagine trying to get seed funding for BASF? "We won't make the products you use, we'll make them better!" "What? This is 1865; get thee to the chem lab and make me something I can sell!"). So Skyhook have created Loki, a Firefox toolbar that uses the Skyhook platform to figure out your current location so you can have one-click local search, mapping, and location sharing...