It’s hard to tell if Spatial Topology Technology (STOMAP) cofounders Frankie Chen (陳宴誠) and Allen Chang (張至仁), both 32, are reticent to explain exactly how their technology works because it’s fiendishly complicated, or they are wary of a competitor stealing their idea.
The answer is possibly both.
By their own admission, STOMAP’s team of four engineer co-founders sometimes get a little too buried in the tech, and in Chang’s words, “lose track of the market.”
Billed in no-nonsense fashion as “the only indoor map platform embedded with both indoor positioning and navigation systems on this planet”, STOMAP is a potentially thorny concept to grasp because the core of the business is not really maps, but data.
According to Chen, STOMAP’s solution is unique because it is fully automated (other mapping solutions require vast manpower), does not require excess hardware because it relies on existing environmental elements like WIFI and beacons, and is able to closely map, or provide the data that could be used to map, large indoor areas and their surroundings. STOMAP is also scalable in the sense that it does not buckle as the size of the mapping area increases.
“You know the Google Street View car? We basically just shrunk everything in that car into a small backpack,” says Chang, adding that the backpack is a tool for database construction.
It also comes in handy demoing the tech when bidding for projects, and was instrumental in STOMAP winning a tender to map Taipei Main Station and create the Taipei Main Station navigator tool, which each day helps half a million people find their way through the integrated train, rail and high-speed rail warren of underground passages and malls.
“We used the bag to beat the competitors – to show the technology – that we could complete all the mapping within one month using this system,” says Chen, a former software engineer at ASUS. That mapping comprised 360,000 square kilometers and included 3,000 points of interest.
The technology has its roots in ASUS’ robotics research lab and the work of STOMAP CEO Shih-Chi Lin (林詩頎), who twigged that the spatial awareness technology that robots use to navigate their surroundings could be tweaked to help humans map and understand their indoor environments. Ogst Chen (陳建仲), formerly of Taiwan’s National Applied Research Laboratories, completes the founding quartet.
“Think it of as an indoor version of Google Maps,” says Chang, adding that not even Google currently has the ability to locate people down to exactly where they are inside a particular building.
And just like Google, STOMAP’s Taipei-based team of 10 is more interested in your data than giving away free maps.
“General users can use the map for navigation but for business owners, like shopping malls, we can provide offline data on where their customers go, and their buying interest, based on their unique identification of each mobile user,” Chang explains.
How does a business STOMAP get your mobile ID? It gives you a loyalty app or partners with someone who does and within the terms and conditions you sign over the right to have your location shared.
STOMAP is actively engaged in building apps that can help business owners improve their business intelligence, having developed a gambling app designed to identify and then track people in Taiwan with a fondness for games of chance.
“[The app] has about 20,000 daily active users, and the average earnings per user per day is about US$20,” says Chang, adding that STOMAP cannot disclose the app’s name as it is a proof of concept project and the company does not have the app owner’s permission.
“We are trying to identify those people that regularly go to [gambling] spots so we can give the list to the business owners and they can promote their packages,” Chang adds.
The tactic of building an app specifically designed for a certain type of person, and then matching their behavior and location with the mapping service, can be applied to pretty much any business case.
Aside from the Taipei City government, STOMAP is partnering with indoor car park operators to assist car owners in finding their vehicles, which in turn helps the business improve its turnover rate.
But the golden egg would be a partnership with the likes of WeChat or Line, ubiquitous apps that would allow STOMAP to provide indoor location-based service data on vast swathes of the population to anyone with an interest in where those people are going and spending their time.
“If we really want to upgrade our map to the kind of scale of Google Maps we need to upscale, even if we have the entirety of Taiwan, it’s not enough,” says Chang. “Maybe someone will take a look at Southeast Asia, but right now we still need help with traffic from, for example, Line [which operates beacons in the Taipei City MRT] to enable our service.”
Asked whether the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which stipulates that a person must give “a clear affirmative action” to signify they agree to the use of their personal data for specific purposes and which came into force in the EU in May, might present a problem for STOMAP’s business model, the founding pair, who were electrical engineering classmates at the University of Southern California, are sanguine.
“GDPR in Asia will likely come in the next few years,” Chang says. “We are still looking at what giants like Google are going to do. They collect a lot of data but have not yet acted on GDPR.”
“It’s all legal because we don’t know where you are or where you live,” adds Chen. “We know your unique ID, or your bluetooth or wifi address and we use your records to build a user portfolio.
Having funded development off their own dime since founding STOMAP in 2015, the company is now seeking US$1 million in investment, and large-scale data partners with which to expand its coverage and service.
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The News Lens was sponsored by Taiwan Startup Stadium to attend RISE 2018.
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