Chip Startup All About Location, Location - Wall Street Journal (US)

It’s nice to know where things are. An Irish semiconductor startup plans to deliver that information a lot more precisely.

DecaWave, which was founded in 2007, on Thursday is introducing a chip that it says can locate any object to a precision of 10 centimeters. It uses different technology than most other location-related offerings, and DecaWave says it opens new possibilities.

Many people immediately think of tracking mobile device users’ locations–with the sometimes-creepy potential that implies–and notions like stores sending electronic offers as a shopper walks by. But DecaWave sees its chips being added to many additional kinds of objects for other purposes, including using a smartphone in the home to help find car keys, wallets or gadgets like iPads.

Ciaran Connell, DecaWave’s CEO, describes the scenario of walking into a shopping mall with a specific pair of Gucci shoes in mind, and using a smartphone and chips on packaging to find exactly where on a store’s shelves they can be found.

Many people are familiar with location-finding from GPS features on mobile phones. That satellite-based technology does not work reliably in buildings, however.

Wi-Fi is an alternative for indoor location-finding, but Connell says its precision is only seven to eight meters, with 80% reliability, “which is lousy.” A low-energy variety of Bluetooth is also being employed for indoor use, which Connell says has limitations, too.

DecaWave’s chips use a technology called Ultra Wideband, which was once considered as an alternative to wires for connecting devices like TVs and stereos together. A key attribute, Connell says, is that it uses a wide swath of radio spectrum–on the order of 1,300 megahertz, compared to 40 megahertz for Wi-Fi and two megahertz for Bluetooth–which helps boost precision in location-finding.

And it uses very little energy, an aid in extending battery life. Connell estimates DecaWave’s chips based on the technology will cost less than two euros and run off a watch battery for several years.

Connell is quick to acknowledge the chicken-and-egg issue his company faces. Makers of smartphones, for example, won’t be inclined to incorporate DecaWave’s chips until there are other gadgets out there that use them; makers of gadgets like wireless access points will wait for mobile-device adoption.

But he sees various interim steps, like sleeves for mobile phones that consumers could use to turn those devices into location-finders based on DecaWave technology.

“We have 1,800 companies who are waiting for this part,” Connell says.

Connell says it has filed for 18 patents, with five issued in the U.S. already.

DecaWave, which is based in London, now has 30 employees and has raised about €20 million–mostly from individual investors–as venture capitalists continue to shy away from chip startups. “It was really, really, really tough,” he says