Ubihere’s Breakthrough Tech Tracks Shopper Behavior

What do lunar astronauts, Marines, and shoppers at a local mall have in common?

They may all benefit from the unique solutions from Ubihere, a spinout from The Ohio State University (OSU) that creates positioning systems and products that work inside buildings to track people and things.

The underlying research started at OSU with a grant from NASA; an early model of the technology was implemented on the Mars Rover to help astronauts relocate a lost landing module. (There are no street signs on Mars.)

That led to a Department of Defense (DoD) grant to keep track of covert operatives in urban environments and a Department of Energy (DOE) solution that tracks maintenance workers as they move through a nuclear power plant.

Global positioning systems (GPS) work well on highways and in deserts, but GPS is severely degraded or even inoperable inside structures.

“The difference between Ubihere and other technologies,” said Bob Burpee, CEO, “is that unlike GPS, we don’t need satellites or antennas, extra infrastructure or WIFI. Our technology works by using acceleration and trajectory.”

The system uses a collection device, which could be a camera, a sensor, or a digitally enabled tag to provide real-time location services.

Ubihere’s Initial Focus is on a Camera-based System in a Retail Space

“It could be a shopping mall,” Burpee said, “a store, or a restaurant. We will tie into existing customer point of sale systems; our goal is plug-and-play.”

Imagine being the manager of a retail store who is motivated to make customers’ in-store experience pleasant and useful, so the customer will spend more time (and hopefully more money) in the store.

If brick and motor retailers had data about customer in-store behavior, they could make better decisions about store layout, merchandise displays, register staffing, or a myriad of other in-store factors that affect customers.

Online stores use clicks and shopping carts to track virtually everything about customer behavior, but it’s a different story with stores or restaurants in the mall.

“With retail stores, sensors capture when a person enters or leaves a store; the point-of-sale systems capture when a purchase is made,” Burpee said. “All that tells you is that someone entered a store, and that someone bought something. You don’t even know if it is the same person. It doesn’t tell you anything about buyer behavior or buyer desire.”

With Ubihere, retailers can gather anonymous behavior information about the “generic” people who enter a store and correlate behavior and purchases to a particular, if unnamed, person. Ubihere’s learning algorithms aggregate and analyze the information to provide insights to reduce cost and improve service. For example, Ubihere can provide insights into increasing or decreasing staff, repositioning displays, or grouping merchandise in a way that makes it easier for customers to shop.

“The system tracks behavior and movement, but not any personal information,” Burpee said. “It doesn’t know ‘you’ are ‘you.’ It captures data about how long a person is in the store, when that person stops at a display, whether that person is just wandering or is looking for help, whether that person buys the green shirt it picked up or drops it somewhere else.”

Next Steps

Burpee, who connected with Ubihere when he was serving as a mentor and advisor to Rev1 portfolio companies, is engaged in market validation with some of the retailing powerhouses headquartered in Columbus. He continues to use Rev1 Ventures advisory and expert services.

“The wealth of experience is invaluable,” Burpee said. “They have prepped me for pitches, taken me through dry-runs, given me lots of feedback. They are the kind of people who tell me what they really think, which is great.”

Ubihere is working with a team of software architects and designers to advance the Ubihere platform to meet market requirements in retail, with further applications likely in hospitality and healthcare.

Experienced Team Leads Ubihere: Bob Burpee is a former senior judicial attorney at the Supreme Court of Ohio. He originally connected with Ubihere through working with Rev1 clients as a mentor and expert advisor. >Dr. Alper Yilmaz, CTO and professor of Geoinformatics at OSU, is the inventor of the technology. Ralph Greco, vice president of business development and director of the Business Analytics Initiative at OSU, has 20 years’ experience selling technology solutions for IBM and Accenture.