Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »
Esri’s Geotrigger Service now available
February 24th, 2014 by Susan Smith
Esri announced its cloud-based Geotrigger Service is now available, making it easier for developers to add location awareness and messaging to their iPhone and Android apps. With the Geotrigger Software Development Kit (SDK), mobile apps can send custom messages when a user enters or leaves locations specified by the application developer.
Amber Case, director of the Esri R&D Center, Portland Oregon, talked with GISCafe Voice about the new service. “The Geotrigger Service originally was a company called GeoLoqi founded by me and my co-founder Aaron Pareki, CTO of Esri R&D Center. In the last year we’ve grown from 6 to 20 employees.”
Originally the service was based on the fact that there was a lot of information stuck on the web that was static. “If you could bring that information to life by attaching location to it and allowing people to get a location based alert, when they need it, a whole universe of apps would open up, what has been called ‘calm technology,’” said Case. “The technology gets out of the way and lets you live your life and is there when you need it and not when you don’t. The big issue is when you have persistent location awareness. If you have an app that knew where it was, it could deliver these individual contextual alerts. That can work across lots of different organizations, public city data, local advertising, etc. But the big thing that got in the way for us when we were originally building the systems was that the GPS on the phones wasn’t very accurate and battery life was a big issue, if you use location all the time.”
About three years ago GeoLoqi made their first version of the system where it handled battery life and it was reasonably accurate. The GPS was okay, but not compared to Esri’s GeoEvent Processor, which employ embedded devices plugged into your car battery. People walking around with a device have to be concerned with battery life.
On the original system, Case said they had about 2 million end users. The GPS began to improve, and Android and Apple began to release location tools, which made it easier for developers to use location.
“Once we joined Esri when our company was acquired we were able to rebuild the system,” explained Case. “We could do it the right way, make it simple and modular and take advantage of all the GPS updates, and the different new back end systems that Android and Apple launched, and all the things across the Esri platform such as geocoding and demographics.”
Battery life will always be an issue, said Case but they have an adapted mode that intelligently takes care of ramping up and ramping down the GPS when you’re near content that needs to be delivered to the phone. Then they have a “rough tracking” mode, for the larger you get. For example, with location data about four blocks away you don’t notice battery drain, and then there is a “fine” mode which means you’re going to get very accurate location based alerts but it drains your battery a bit more than the other profiles. With the system you can write methods to change the tracking profile if someone is moving, and can have triggers within triggers where one trigger changes the tracking profile and another trigger delivers the content. “We can have all these nested layers around the city so you can deliver all those messages without having the end users worry about the battery life and all the things happening behind scenes,” said Case.
While there are apps that deal with road notifications and public safety warnings, said Case, many people don’t have mobile developers inside their organization to help them create these types of products. “The next piece of the puzzle is to make more template apps, like all of our tools at Esri. A lot are configured, and not coded from scratch. There aren’t that many really good mobile apps because they’re hard to build, because they have to be two different device profiles, plus screen sizes, and batteries and GPS, so if we make several apps across all those then we can take all the data stored in Esri and bring it into life, correlate it with other pieces in other platforms, and add it as another component of the Esri toolkit.”
Case pointed out that when they were a small company people wanted the service but they wanted assurance that the company would be around for two years or more. It takes a year to integrate the service into their large company workflow, and the concern was that small startup companies like GeoLoqi would not be a long term investment. “When we joined Esri all the companies that had been sitting on the fence said ‘oh, okay now we know it’s going to be stable as Esri has been in business for 45 years.’ That’s been one of the big benefits.”
Developers can add the following location-based functions to apps with Geotrigger Service:
Notify citizens about road closures, emergencies, or public safety warnings based on their past or current location.
Inform tourists about interesting places as they explore your city, theme park, and so forth.
Engage customers with personalized content or deals the moment they enter a store—or a set amount of time later.
Optimize customer service by notifying employees when a customer who just ordered something arrives at your store.