Apple patent would allow an iPhone or Apple Watch to tell you which floor you’re on

Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,936,342) that would allow your iPhone or Apple Watch to tell you which floor you’re on in a building. You’d think you would know that without electronic help, but the tech giant says there are other advantages.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that people often carry mobile devices to a venue (e.g., a building) where a pedestrian can access. The venue can have multiple floors. People may want to use their mobile devices to determine on which floor they are located. People may want their mobile devices to display a floor plan of that floor, without having to enter a floor number. 

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Inside the building, determining a floor using global navigation satellite system (GNSS) signals may be impractical due to signal weakness or signal obstruction. An altitude determined using barometer readings may also be insufficiently accurate or certain to determine a floor level, due to measurement uncertainties and atmospheric instabilities. 

Apple’s invention involves techniques for determining a building floor level. A mobile device can use wireless signal sources and location fingerprint data to determine a level of a building floor on which the mobile device is located. The location fingerprint data can include or be associated with a list and a count of wireless signal sources previously detected on each floor. 

The mobile device can compare the list and count with wireless signal sources detected by the mobile device, and use results of the comparison to configure a statistical filter that determines a location of the mobile device. The mobile device can then determine the location, including a building floor level, using the statistical filter. 

Apple says its techniques may provide better user experience when the user navigates inside a venue using the mobile device. For example, the mobile device can automatically display a floor plan for a user without having to request the user to input a floor level. The mobile device can display contextually relevant information to the user based on not only a latitude and longitude position but also a floor level. The mobile device can provide route guidance to a location on a different floor, using the floor determination to provide the routing information. 

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.