How the Totem Compass Works: A Comprehensive Guide

The Totem Compass is designed to give people freedom—here's how it works.

Totem exists to bring people together.

Our technology is creating a new era for festivals and live events around the world: a safer, more immersive, more beautiful era than ever before.

The Totem Compass is designed to give people freedom. Freedom to roam, freedom to dance. Freedom from fear & uncertainty.

The beauty of the Totem Compass is that it works without cell service, Wi-Fi, or bluetooth. In most cases, cell phone service gets worse the more people there are in a confined space. The Totem Compass has the opposite effect—the more people that exist with Totem Compasses, the better they function.

how the totem compass works
How the Totem Compass works at music festivals and live events

The Totem Compass is equipped with three core technologies: GNSS, a peer-to-peer connectionless communication protocol, and our Unity Mesh Network™. These three features work together to create the ultimate trifecta of communication capabilities that bypass regular cell phone service or data connection. This also explains why the Totem Compass is absolutely perfect for crowded settings.

Here’s exactly how the Totem Compass works.

How does the Totem Compass know its location?

The Totem Compass uses GNSS to determine its exact location on the earth at all times. Before we get into specifics, let’s first cover what GNSS is.

What is GNSS?

GNSS stands for Global Navigation Satellite System. It's an umbrella term that includes GPS and other continental satellite systems worldwide. GNSS is a global constellation of satellites, also called senders, that provide signals from space. The satellites then transmit the data to a receiver in your Totem Compass. The receiver uses that data to determine its exact location on the Earth.

totem compass gnss
The Totem Compass uses GNSS to get satellite coverage around the world

How does the Totem Compass work with GNSS?

The Totem Compass uses GNSS to determine its exact location on the planet by acting as a receiver that grabs the signal from the satellite. We use a GNSS module embedded in the PCB (the “motherboard” inside the compass) that allows the compass to “lock” onto any nearby satellite and grab its location in space.

Fun fact: The GNSS module operates way below the standard noise floor for most receivers. This allows it to detect the satellite signal even after it’s traveled over 20,000 km (12,000 miles).

What are the limitations of GNSS?

While GNSS is an amazing tool for determining the Totem Compass’ location at a global scale, it does come with some limitations.

Because objects such as roofs, walls, and other construction materials typically contain different types of metal, they can interfere with the satellite signal sent to the Totem Compass. This is why GNSS is best used outdoors. And in our case—large crowds!

Eventually, the Totem Compass will evolve to be able to know its location indoors. We have a bunch of ideas on how to make this happen—and we promise we’ll take you along for the ride, every step of the way.

How does the Totem Compass work without cell service, Wi-Fi, or bluetooth?

The Totem Compass works without cell service, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. The compass uses a connectionless peer-to-peer communication protocol that allows for a direct exchange of information between any compass without the need for a central server, cell tower, or Wi-Fi router.

The communication protocol allows the compasses to build their own, internal network between devices. The network then creates a two-way communication mode between compasses. This allows each compass to track and respond to any other compass it is bonded to.

How do Totem Compasses communicate with each other?

The Totem Compasses operate on a 2.4GHz band frequency—similar to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth—but use a different protocol with much lower latency.

Think of Wi-Fi like an onion. There are six layers within that “onion” that enable you to send a text to someone you know. When cell phone networks get congested, it’s because a massive amount of data from hundreds of cell phones are all trying to travel through all six of those layers at the same time.

Totem’s peer-to-peer communication protocol reduces those six layers typical of Wi-Fi networks, effectively bypassing the first four layers of Wi-Fi communication. When the protocol is reduced to three layers, compasses can communicate quickly and easily even in highly-congested areas.

This means that the compasses operate on a super low-latency. In other words, the response time between any two compasses is much faster than any kind of communication with your cell phone.

totem compass communication protocol
The Totem Compass is intentionally designed to work best in large crowds—unlike cell phones.

What is the range of the Totem Compass?

The peer-to-peer range between any two Totem Compasses goes up to 500-1000 meters. But that’s only if you’re using two compasses in an area without any other Totem compasses. When you’re at a large event, or have other friends using the compass, our Unity Mesh Network™ kicks in to extend your max range significantly.

What is the Unity Mesh Network™?

The Totem Compass uses our Unity Mesh Network™ protocol that extends the range of your compass. Before we define the Unity Mesh Network™, let’s start by defining what a mesh network actually is.

What is a mesh network?

A mesh network is a network in which devices create connection points, also called nodes, that are all linked together. In this case, each Totem Compass in the area functions as a node in the mesh network. Each node branches off the other, allowing information to travel across multiple routes.

The mesh network, layered on top of our peer-to-peer connectionless protocol, also explains why the Totem Compasses don’t need a designated router. Because the compasses function as nodes in the mesh network, they also serve as routers for one another. This means that data hops from one node (in this case, one compass) to another, and will reroute around any broken or blocked paths (i.e. highly congested areas at the event).

unity mesh network
How the Totem Compasses act as nodes in the Unity Mesh Network™

What’s an example of a mesh network?

The first, and perhaps oldest, example of a mesh network is….drumroll….the Internet itself! Information passes through the Internet from router to router (or node) until it reaches its final destination.

Other recognizable examples of a mesh network include Amazon Sidewalk, a shared network that allows all Echo devices to communicate with each other and work faster within and outside your home. Google Nest Wi-Fi does something very similar.

How does the Unity Mesh Network™ extend the range of the Totem Compass?

The Unity Mesh Network™ extends the range of Totem Compasses.

The beauty of the Unity Mesh Network is that users are switched between networks as they move through different zones covered by nodes, creating a network chain effect.

In other words, when you’re at a music festival or live event, other people’s Totem Compasses act as nodes in the mesh network for your device—even if you aren’t bonded with those people. This means that everyone else acts as a bridge to your friends, even when they are technically “out-of-range” from your Totem Compass.

For example, say you’re at Burning Man. On average, 75,000 people attend Burning Man every year. If even 2% of Burners have Totem Compasses (1,500 people), the signal range of your Totem Compass could extend across the entire area depending on the distribution of those people.

We intentionally designed the Totem Compass this way—and not just because the tech is super cool. At Totem, we believe in unity. We believe that humanity shines brightest when we stand together. With our Unity Mesh Network™, the broader tribe (i.e. other festival goers) supports your personal tribe. We are all one tribe, here to help each other stay in touch with the people we love.

Can the Totem Compass allow someone to follow me home?

The Totem Compass is designed to make it nearly impossible for anyone to follow you home after the event. Because the Unity Mesh Network™ relies on other compasses to communicate, when the festival disbands, the mesh network disappears. At that point, the max range reverts to the peer-to-peer range of 500-1000 meters.

Once you get in your car or rideshare vehicle at the end of the night, you will quickly get out of range of anyone else who bonded with your compass. This means that the only way someone could track you after the festival is if you keep your compass on, and if they stay within 500-1000 meters of you during your entire trip.

"Compass Mode" vs. "Vibe Mode"

The Totem Compass operates on two modes: Compass Mode and Vibe Mode.

How does Compass Mode work?

We designed the Totem Compass to know exactly when you are ready to find your friends.

The Totem Compass is equipped with an IMU, or Internal Measurement Unit. An IMU estimates and reports things such as angular velocity, also known as tilt recognition. A popular example of a device with an IMU is the iPhone, which lights up when you tilt it toward your face.

The IMU allows the compass to know when you tilt it upward, and then automatically switches into “Compass Mode”. This is all you have to do to tell the compass you are ready to find your friends. It’s that simple!

compass mode
The Totem Compass in "Compass Mode"

How does Vibe Mode work?

Vibe Mode is one of the most fun features of the Totem Compass. Every Totem Compass comes equipped with sound reactivity. When the compass isn’t actively navigating you to your friends, a ring of LED lights around the compass animates in-time with the music it hears.

When you aren’t finding your friends, the Totem Compass recognizes Vibe Mode through tilt recognition—or in this case, the lack of tilt. Whenever it’s idly hanging on your chest, the compass automatically vibes to the music. It is designed to work well in both loud and quiet settings.

Vibe Mode draws a very low amount of energy on the compass’ battery. As long as the compass is vibing to the music, you don’t have to worry about depleting your battery life.

vibe mode
The Totem Compass in "Vibe Mode"

How does the Touch Crystal work on the Totem Compass?

The Totem Compass Touch Crystal works in a few ways. It’s also the only button on the compass that lights up!

The first way to use the Touch Crystal is to change the crystal color. By tapping the Touch Crystal, you can cycle through the colors of the Touch Crystal light. There are about 10 colors to choose from.

The second way to use the Touch Crystal is to bond with your friends. All you need to do here is press and hold the Touch Crystal at the same time as your friends, making sure that each of your compasses are about an inch apart.

The third way to use the Touch Crystal is to enter “Tribe Management Mode”. You can enter Tribe Management Mode by double tapping the Touch Crystal. Once you’re in Tribe Management Mode, you can then tap the crystal to cycle through your tribe and touch and hold to delete a selected peer. We designed this for cases where you meet someone new and want to bond with them, but are already bonded with four of your friends.

totem compass touch crystal
How the Totem Touch Crystal works

How does bonding work with the Totem Compass?

The bonding process describes how to pair your compass to another compass. We made this process really simple— there’s beauty in simplicity.

Before or when you arrive at your festival of choice, all you have to do is:

  1. Turn on your Totem Compass
  2. Hold it next to your friend’s compass about an inch apart
  3. Hold the Touch Crystal at the center of the compass while they hold theirs

That's it! You're now bonded.

pairing your totem compass
How to pair your Totem Compass with your friends

How many people can I bond my Totem Compass with?

Any one Totem Compass can pair with four other compasses. We designed the compasses this way intentionally.

When you’re vibing hard at a music festival, there are already so many flashing lights around you. If there are more than 4 lights on your compass that you have to keep track of, it can complicate your experience. And we want you to have the best, most carefree experience you possibly can!

What if I’m in a large group? How can I bond my Totem Compass to everyone?

Although each compass can only bond with four other compasses, it isn’t a hard-paired circle of five. Each individual compass can pair with any other four compasses. So if you are smart about how you spread the bonds around your group, you can easily make sure that everyone is connected in your group.

For example, John could bond with Susan and Tim. But that doesn’t mean that Tim and Susan have to bond with each other. Tim could bond with John, Elayne, and Rand. Meanwhile, Susan could bond with John, Gwynneth, and Sam.  

Spreading your bonds around allow you to create a daisy chain effect where no one gets left out.

totem compass bonding instructions
How you can spread your bonds around with the Totem Compass

Can I change who I bond with? What if I meet someone new and want to bond my Totem Compass with them?

You can absolutely change who you bond your Totem Compass with. The magic of the Totem Compass is that they’re designed to bond with both old and new friends.

The Totem Compass is not hard-paired, meaning you can change your bonds at any time. All you have to do is double tap the Touch Crystal and it will take you into Tribe Management mode. You can add or remove friends as much and as often as you want.

The SOS Button

The SOS button is one of the most important features of the Totem Compass. It keeps you safe at festivals and live events. Sometimes at a festival, we’re not always in the headspace to venture out alone and find our friends, but we still want to link up with them. The SOS button makes that possible.

Using the SOS button on the Totem Compass is super easy. All you need to do is press and hold the SOS button on the back of the compass for two seconds. Once the SOS button is activated, your light on all of your friends’ compasses will start to blink. That way, they will know to come find you.

One important thing to note is that the SOS button is completely silent. Sometimes, when we’re feeling vulnerable and frightened in a public setting, we don’t want the people around us to know that we’re experiencing discomfort. The discreet nature of the SOS button respects your privacy.

The Totem Compass: A Tool for Love

The Totem Compass is designed to give people freedom. Freedom to wander, freedom to dance. To come alive outside the shackles of routine. Freedom from fear & uncertainty.

We want you to be able to connect with your loved ones, both new and old. We want you to feel the unique joy of being on the same wavelength as the people around you.

The Totem Compass was created because we believe that the most beautiful moments happen alongside the people we love. And no one—regardless of race, creed, or upbringing—deserves to feel lost and afraid.

At Totem, we believe in love, beauty, unity, and simplicity

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