CORVALLIS, Ore. - Traditional GPS can usually get you from one building to another.
But when you go inside a building, GPS doesn't help much.
Researchers have now figured out how to pinpoint your position inside a building, and the technology has practical purposes in the medical field.
Oregon State University student researchers spent a year making the device that's no longer than a credit card.
They call it the ILAM, or Indoor Location and Activity Monitor, and the device goes on the wearer's shoe. The device monitors the person's acceleration (and through constant computer calculations, the person's velocity and position, too).
For the technology to work, special radio frequency identification tags -- like the ones marathoners wear to mark progress -- must be placed in specific areas in a space. The computer knows the exact location of the tags, and the device on the shoe has a tag reader. Thus, when the wearer walks over a tag while wearing the device, the tag is read, and the exact position is logged. The computer program then makes a model of where the person walked or traveled in a space.
Researchers Sam House and Sean Connell (Ian Milligan was also part of the project but not interviewed) said the components for the device totaled about $100, and each tag costs less than $1. With such a low cost, the researchers said it was possible to put many tags around the inside of a building for very accurate data.
"Medical anything usually costs exorbitant amounts of money and this device is 100 bucks, under 100 bucks in small quantities," said Connell.
The technology could help scientists monitor medical test study subjects to see how their activity changes during a study, or to help care providers keep tabs on Alzheimer's patients.
"I feel like that's what engineering is about, is making new things, because building stuff that already exists is a technician's job. But making things that nobody has done before, that's an engineer's job," said House.
House and Connell said they spent many sleepless nights working on the device, but the fact it can be used to help people makes the drowsiness worth it.
"I think that would make the all-nighters a lot more rewarding, the fact that it took so much work and that it actually got used and was beneficial to society would be awesome," said House.
The research team said they earned an "A" on their project.