VPS is poised to supplement existing location data models to further advances in navigation, marketing, and even robotics.

Current global positioning technology has afforded mobile apps an unprecedented degree of accuracy. Through a simple API, developers can harness a remarkably accurate picture of a user's location and orientation on Earth. Advances in hardware sensors have only served to refine this picture.

Meanwhile, brands and developers have in turn harnessed this technology to provide a wide variety of services. From breakout entertainment hits such as Pokemon Go to more mundane uses, such as on-demand services (Uber, Postmates), location data has become a staple of the mobile computing environment.

However, the next generation of positioning technology relies less on satellite location. A new solution takes the form of a cloud-based repository of robust image data from physical environments. Dubbed a "visual positioning system" by Google, a pioneer in the space, this software is capable of determining indoor and outdoor location through ad-hoc visual markers. Distinguishing features such as signage, buildings, and walls are identified by scanning geolocated photos, enabling unprecedented accuracy in location data.

Coming AttRactions

Three major use cases cited by a direct challenger to Google, Fantasmo, include:

  1. Augmented Robotics: Autonomous robots, from drones to dogs to cars, could access VPS services via an SDK. Doing so would dramatically improve their ability to navigate over using GPS alone. Of course, most contemporary solutions to robotic vision incorporate other complementary technology, such as LIDAR, but rich VPS data could eventually eliminate the need for this and other prohibitively expensive sensor workarounds.
  2. Augmented Marketing: Major brands worldwide are well underway in capitalizing on the immersive potential of AR to create compelling marketing content. From Lowe's to BMW to Estée Lauder, branded AR content has resulted in doubled conversion rates and impressive engagement figures on social media. Businesses could compound their success by using VPS data to further improve the quality of an AR experience. For instance, knowing the interior layout of a brick-and-mortar storefront could enable a retail brand to create an engaging AR experience that took users through the entire stores. The experience could also granularly help customers navigate to certain goods.
  3. Augmented Navigation: One of the most impressive demonstrations at this year's Google I/O developer's conference was an extremely effective proof of concept. An AR mode added to Google Maps employed VPS to overlay helpful AR artifacts which helped users navigate to their destinations without consulting a map, in one of the first truly compelling use cases for mobile AR.
Mass Market Mapping

Amidst strong competition from independent firms such as Ubiquity6, Google announced a new Cloud Anchors feature in ARCore 1.2. This represents a preliminary form of fully realized VPS, using locally captured images as opposed to a centralized database. But the race to establish VPS infrastructure on a global scale and offload complex image processing tasks to the cloud is still on.

Competitor Fantasmo is angling to create a VPS database that democratizes the map creation process. By allowing free access to imaging data for public spaces and handing private property owners total control of interior maps, the company hopes to provide a more appealing alternative to Google's centralized approach.