[Updated July 2022]
Indoor positioning opens up a whole new world of possibilities for businesses, but it's also a complicated field as new technologies constantly emerge. In this article, we aim to provide you with an overview of the possibilities with indoor positioning systems (IPS) and outline the different technologies available.
What is Indoor Positioning?
Although the technology is relatively new, it is hard to imagine a world without GPS. The satellite-based positioning systems provide us with an accurate position outdoors, and we use this technology in many aspects of our day-to-day lives. However, GPS loses its benefits as soon as we enter buildings as it relies on very weak signals from satellites which are blocked by walls and roofs. That’s why we need other technologies for the all-important indoor positioning and the desired 'blue dot'. Indoor positioning systems is the umbrella term for different technologies, which use mobile devices to position people's physical location within a building. Once you have set up an IPS, you can benefit from location-based services (LBS) such as sending push notifications based on your user's indoor location.
What is Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) used for?
When it comes to use cases for indoor positioning systems, the sky's the limit. Here are just a few examples of the range of applications and benefits of IPS:
Dynamic turn-by-turn routing
With an indoor positioning system combined with an indoor map of your facility, venues can provide users with real time turn by turn routing. Hospitals can reduce the patient stress by showing them the way to where they need to be. And at the supermarket, customers can experience a personalised shopping experience with a route through the supermarket based on their shopping list. At the airport, travellers will have more time to spend in the tax free area, if they always have the accurate route including travel time at the palm of their hands. The possibilities are endless with real time indoor navigation.
Location-based advertising and messaging
When you know, where your customers are in your store, shopping mall, or airport, you have the option of sending them location based offers directly to their smartphone based on their location. If they are passing by the pasta aisle in the supermarket, they might want to know about the pesto on offer. Or if they are walking past your coffee shop on their way to the gate, you can offer them a discount coupon for a latte on the go.
Insights into people flow
With an indoor positioning system you can gain useful insights into how people move around your facility. You might want to know how staff navigate around your hospital to ensure that they always use the fastest routes. Or perhaps you want to base stand pricing on actual statistics on how many visitors pass by certain areas at your convention centre. With LBS you can optimise the layout of indoor spaces based on actual people flow measurements.
Improvement of work efficiency
In vast warehouses or construction plants, indoor positioning technologies can be used to make workers more efficient by improving product finding and introducing location based shelf stocking.
Which Indoor Positioning Technologies are available?
There are a range of different technologies out there which all cater to different needs, applications, and budgets.
Indoor positioning using BLE beacons is amongst the most widely used indoor positioning technologies on the market today. Beacons are inexpensive, long-life battery driven radio transmitters, which send out signals in a radius of 10-30 meters and use Bluetooth to position the user. The quality of the position depends on the type of building and the number of beacons installed but in an optimal world, a position accuracy of 1 meter can be achieved. The installation of beacons is simple and they are very cost-effective.
Indoor positioning based on WiFi signals use the so-called fingerprinting method, where WiFi signals are measured and based on their strength, the user’s position is calculated. One of the advantages of this technology is, that wifi access points are often readily available within buildings, which minimises the need for further installations. The downside is, that the obtainable position is less accurate (5-15 meters) and more and more devices have system limitations that prevent continuous WiFi scanning to conserve battery. This means that in practise Apple iPhones cannot use this approach, as well as some Android devices.
Geomagnetic positioning technology
This type of positioning uses the Earth’s magnetic fields, which interact with steel and other materials found in building structures. Through the built-in magnetic sensors (the compass) in smartphones, the geomagnetic positioning technology can detect a user’s position within a building. IndoorAtlas are the leading providers of Geomagnetic positioning technology. This method is often combined with Bluetooth beacons to ensure a good user experience and correct floor detection.
Similar to Bluetooth beacons, wall-mounted ultrasound transmitters can enable mobile devices to get accurate positions indoors. Sound waves at this frequency are inaudible for human ears, but not for a standard microphone in a PC or smartphone. And since sound waves have different characteristics than radio waves, the location accuracy is very high using this technology. Forkbeard provides such systems. When centimeter-accuracy is needed, consider this option.
Enterprise WiFi networks
Some enterprise networks are able to calculate approximate location for connected devices and can support use cases like indoor wayfinding and locating assets. The advantage of this lies in having a single infrastructure that supports multiple use cases (data connectivity + location services). MapsIndoors works seamlessly with Cisco DNA Spaces.
The newest branch on the tree of indoor positioning uses LED lighting to position people and things inside buildings. With this technology the fixtures provide not just visible light, but also , high speed internet and location services to the venue... The LED light fixtures communicate with smartphones through Visible Light Communication, Bluetooth Low Energy or video analytics. Philips and GE are leading the way with IPS based on LED lighting. The use cases are still relatively limited but Philips promises a hyper accurate indoor position of around 30 centimeters.
Which Indoor Positioning System is the best?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as use cases differ and new technologies are emerging. The best indoor positioning system depends on a range of factors such as:
- Building type
- Requirements (what do you want to get out of your IPS?)
How do you install an Indoor Positioning System?
As previously mentioned, the complexity and scope of the installation of indoor positioning systems depends entirely on the technology itself, your requirements and any current technology setup at your venue.
What is the future for Indoor Positioning?
In the world of technology it is always dangerous to make predictions but one thing is for sure: Indoor positioning systems are here to stay and the potential for retailers, airports, hospitals, universities and many other venues is huge. With the addition of positioning based on LED lighting, it will be very interesting to see how the IPS market takes off to a whole new level using existing infrastructure to further expand the use of indoor spaces.
If you want to know more about indoor positioning systems, check out this episode of our podcast, Map Shack, where our Solutions Engineer here at MapsPeople, Matti Jensen, gets technical and explains what's going on in the world of Indoor Positioning Systems.