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GPS and Indoor Use: Drift and Maximizing Battery Life

Why does PocketFinder use GPS, WiFi and cell tower triangulation for location? Accuracy! While GPS is designed for outdoor use, people do spend time indoors-- this can be due to weather, general safety (seniors), or health reasons. Using GPS indoors increases the chances of Drift and quicker battery drain. This post will explore the location technologies, why drift happens, and what PocketFinder (PF) has in place to combat these scenarios.

While reading this post, it is always important to remember GPS is designed for outdoor use. GPS satellites orbit the Earth and send signals down like laser pointers. So, when a device is outside or in an open space, it will get solid connections and accurate locates. Most outdoor GPS locates are accurate within 10 meters! Our system is designed to automatically discard any location that does not have an accuracy score of 75 meters or better. But, with Drift, some inaccurate locations can slip through.

Standard Drift- This is the most common form of drift. Standard Drift is due to building materials, parking structures, thick foliage, and even large bodies of water interfering with the GPS signals. The GPS signals come down and bounce off those surfaces. As they bounce around, the signals get less accurate and triangulation more difficult. So, when those signals finally do connect with the device, the signals being read are not ideal.

PF Fix- When in a home or public building with Wifi, the device will switch to WiFi Touch to better reflect an indoor location. In some buildings like tall apartments, the device will bounce between GPS and WiFi depending on where it is indoors. This is where zones help. When setting up Home zones, we recommend making it a little bigger than first intended to optimize alerts. When charging overnight,  we recommend placing it near a window to get best signals and download updates.

WiFi Drift- When WiFi is set up, the internet provider tags it with a latitude/ longitude location.So, if GPS is not ideal, your PF+ can see if there’s any WiFi signals and read that location tag to gauge its own location. How can this cause drift? One example might be in a store like Costco or Walmart. Most often WiFi is centralized in stores like these. So, when in the store, tracking will likely show more towards the middle of the store, even if the device is physically near the edge of the store.

PF Fix- First is reliability! If you are getting consistent tracking in the store, you know your loved one is still inside. You can set your connection interval to “Constant” so there is no rest period and you’ll quickly see if they leave. Via the app, you can also set an Instant Zone and it will create a zone around your device’s last location (in the store). This way, you are notified when they do leave the store.

Global Drift- This drift is caused by the satellites directly and is the most rarely experienced. The most noticeable example would be your device is showing at home like normal and then suddenly shows it in the middle of the Sudan. Then it's quickly back home. What happened? GPS Satellites are always orbiting overhead; likewise, the Earth is moving and on a tilt. When the angle and distance between satellite and device reach a certain point, the signal is handed off to a closer satellite. If there is a glitch with the hand off, that is when you will see a wild Drift location. Once that connection reestablishes, tracking will jump to the correct location.

PF Fix- Luckily Global Drift is very short lived. But, if you get a sudden alert that the device has left the house and it is miles and miles away, you can first quickly check History to get a reliable reading of the tracking leading up to that alert. Because your zone is set up per the PF recommendations, if the location is due to drift, you will quickly get that Enter Zone alert once the signal is reestablished. Plugging in to charge or initiating SOS can aid in fixing the connection. These two hardware  functions force the device to connect with our servers whether it wants to or not. This reconnection puts the device in a more sensitive state and can speed up the correction of the signal coming from the satellite. 

It’s important to remember that Drift is a “natural phenomenon” for GPS trackers. Even if the location is 2 feet off, that is still technically Drift. Luckily, we are partnered with US and international developers focused on continuing to improve indoor use and accuracy. Our in-house, US based Customer Care Team uses our devices with their own families and are always ready to meet a customer’s unique needs with tailored solutions. PocketFinder supports customers all over the world and will likely have experience in an area or situation similar to yours.

Reach out HERE to discuss your needs and determine if our personal tracker is the device  for you!


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