The End of Car Keys, Passwords and Fumbling With Your Phone at Checkout – Bangkok Post

January 10, 2022 by No Comments

Apple’s AirTags, one of the earliest consumer applications of UWB technology, are about the size of four half-dollar coins, stacked.  Apple via Reuters

For all the attention on tech companies and location tracking in recent years, our gadgets are actually surprisingly bad at knowing precisely where they are at any given moment. That’s about to change.

A straightforward and robust technology, decades in the making, is finally becoming affordable and widespread enough to grant devices not just a basic sense of direction, both indoors and out, but also the ability to precisely locate themselves in three dimensions.

The technology is called ultra-wideband, or UWB. It enables a centimeter-accurate sense of “where” on top of the “when” of computers’ clocks and the “what” provided by cameras and other sensors, and it could lead to all sorts of interesting things that might not be immediately obvious.

It has already become part of a standard backed by Apple, Google, BMW, Volkswagen and others designed to let anyone with a late-model smartphone or Apple Watch unlock and start their cars simply by walking up to them.

It could make it easy for us to control any connected light, lock, speaker or other smart-home gadget simply by pointing at it with our phone or watch. It could even, claim its architects, end passwords.

But first, UWB has to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem that always faces new technologies that require many different companies, in many different industries, to spend time and money making their devices wirelessly communicate with one another.

Companies that use it also will have to overcome major privacy issues. Once our gadgets are broadcasting their location at all times, how do we assure that information doesn’t fall into the hands of those who would use it to harm us?

Still, while UWB is in its early days, some applications are already here. The microchips and antennae that make it possible have been in every model of iPhone since the iPhone 11, launched in 2019, as well as newer phones from Google, Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo and others. It’s also been in the Apple Watch since 2020’s Series 6 model.

Its applications so far include iPhone owners finding their AirTags, sharing files via AirDrop, or amusing their friends with a party trick you can only do with Apple’s HomePod Mini. Owners of newer Samsung phones are using UWB when they find their Galaxy SmartTag+, that company’s answer to AirTags.

In the not-too-distant future, things could get a great deal more interesting. And while many technologies promising transformation of some critical part of our world’s digital plumbing are destined to fall short, there are reasons to believe this one could live up to its potential.

For one: Membership of the FiRa Consortium, a non-profit developing the UWB standard, is a who’s-who of major tech companies.

UWB is not, in other words, some proprietary part of one tech giant’s walled garden. It’s more like a basic piece of consumer (and industrial) communications infrastructure, like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or 5G cellular standards.

UWB was developed over the past decade as a way to very precisely locate any object in three-dimensional space, says Dr. Ardavan Tehrani, who is part of a working group at FiRa and also works for Meta Platforms, the company formerly known as Facebook, in a division called Reality Labs.

Previous at-tempts to track location indoors with existing wireless technologies, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, fell short because they were never intended …….

Source: https://www.bangkokpost.com/business/2244771/the-end-of-car-keys-passwords-and-fumbling-with-your-phone-at-checkout

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