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Indoor Location-Based Services – Technology and Applications

June 12, 2012

Indoor location-based services

Bianor recently had the opportunity to work on a couple of indoor location-based navigation projects. Here are some thoughts on indoor navigation services.

Specifics of Indoor LBS

The context in which indoor navigation is used differs from the way we use a map. Searching for a street address or sightseeing location we just need to get there, and have set A and B points. The demands on indoor navigation services are tougher – the user requires information about stores and products to be found inside the building, special happenings or offers etc. The service is similar to an interactive directory and is less like a GPS car system.

Types of Indoor Location Systems

GPS does not operate indoors since the satellite signal cannot penetrate through buildings. This is why Wi-Fi routers, which triangulate a device’s position, are common in indoor locations. Four Wi-Fi categories of systems determine position based on the following parameters – cell of origin, distance, angle and location patterning.

  • Cell of origin’ – this approach’s advantage is the ease of implementation and its drawback the fact that a device can get associated not with the closest cell but with another, more distant one.
  • Distance’ – this method requires precise knowledge of transmission times, and is most accurate in semi-indoor locations.
  • Angle-based’ – a technique, the major drawback of which is susceptibility to interference, thus it is barely usable in indoor navigation.
  • Location patterning’ – does not require special hardware, and has the user carrying anything as simple as a bar-coded sticker. Receiving sensors track the signal via an interference created by the tag. A cheap and easy to implement solution, with a downside the user’s unease with the gadget after having left the building.

Indoor Location-Based Services Challenges

The accuracy of the cellular network solution is an issue. Users can be directed to within a room’s boundaries of target but the ability to provide more precise location-based information is non-existent. In a shopping mall this could be a problem. Another trick is navigating through a wall – you might find yourself staring at a brick wall with your phone insisting that the store you need is a few steps forward. Integration with building blueprints and taking into account all possible use cases is required. A different problem is the fact that iPhones do not scan for a Wi-Fi signal. An innovative solution has the device and the building swapping roles, allowing the Wi-Fi points to detect the phone and provide location information to the user.

Indoor Navigation Uses

Location-based targeted promotions can lead customers to you, especially those in a position to purchase now. If loyalty programs could auto-detect clients and automatically check them in, venues would remain on the radar of their clients’ social circle. Business intelligence gathered by knowing customers’ behaviour inside a store could provide advantages in displaying merchandise, planning specials etc. The convenience and safety provided by indoor navigation and the access to location-based content can facilitate and optimize human traffic in public areas such as airports, shopping malls, stadiums, museums, office parks etc.

Indoor LBS Navigation Sample Project

Here is a sample project assisting users to locate stores within a shopping center and provide useful information about each. After searching for the store name the user receives information on its location and the fastest way there. The solution leverages Cisco’s “transparent walls” approach – the use of WiFi access points and MSE location server to triangulate the user’s indoor position within the premises. The user’s smart phone compass and location coordinates are used to determine the distance from the location.

Why not share with us any experience you may have had with indoor navigation services?

Author: Maria Williamson

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