Technology is that which drives human endeavors, from the discovery long ago of fire, the wheel, and agriculture, to today. We, humans, have an unquenchable thirst to improve our day to day lives. As such, the arrival of GPS in the late 20th century could be considered to be one of our crowning achievements. However, this Global Positioning System has one huge flaw … it does not work too well indoors! And that means we need IPS, or Indoor Positioning services to pick up the slack.
Fortunately, as I type this, we’re already on the cusp of a revolution, one that will see a whole new generation of IPS mobile apps arrive.
An IPS Revolution
Now, if you’re asking yourself, “why does GPS not work well indoors?” Here is the quick (to the point) answer, one that will leave you in no doubt, why Indoor Positioning services are coming.
A lack of Signal Strength
Ask yourself where does that GPS signal your Smartphone or in-car satnav uses come from? The answer is Satellites, which orbit the Earth at an altitude of 12,500-miles or 20,200km, a long way up. So, when you take into account that its signal strength is just 50-watts, it’s surprising it works at all!
The problem for GPS is a serious but, simple one. As soon as it makes contact with solid objects like walls and metals it hasn’t the energy to pass through. And that means your phone may find it difficult to find a satellite and other useful services just can’t be relied upon. Meaning, it has been left to the private sector, companies like Google, Nokia, Apple, and Microsoft to come up with an answer.
Here’s what you need to know…
What is IPS?
Unlike GPS or GLONASS, Indoor Positioning Services are not self-contained technologies. Instead, it relies on some pre-existing tech such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Cellular, GPS, with this it builds a data picture. One that can fill the void where Global positioning alone fails. With the result being accurate positioning indoors, either at home or some other venue.
Now, forgoing the obvious privacy concerns that some may have, you may be surprised to know that IPS is already here. Yes, it is in its infancy, but big names are/have already experimented with it. Back in 2011, Google introduced to its Android version of maps, floor plans. These plans consisted of the internal layouts of shopping malls, airports, individual retail outlets and more.
Who are the Big Players?
Google: The once search only giant as I mentioned earlier has been working to solve the problem on Indoor Positioning for years. As a result, it has made some strategic acquisitions such as Nest, with its cameras, smoke alarms, and thermostats. Plus, developed the likes of Home, OnHub, Google DayDream, and Chromecast all of which can intercommunicate to create a mesh network.
Google aims to leverage this mesh to enable internal tracking and positioning of both people and objects.
Microsoft: Whereas most Indoor Positioning Services under development are consumer-facing propositions. For Microsoft, it’s all about work, and how IPS can improve/benefit business.
It see’s the future of corporate positioning as one that incorporates the likes of Azure, SharePoint, Yammer, and LinkedIn. With Yammer and SharePoint it aims to give employee’s and visitors to corporate events and campuses access to location data. This would enable people to attend meetings without getting lost, track down a colleague, or make their whereabouts known.
As for LinkedIn, it’s thought it will be used to give those with an account access to what is, need to know integrated data.
Apple: Much like Google, Apple has been a keen player in the IPS world from day one. Starting with the purchase of WiFiSLAM in 2013, it would help it begin to map the indoors world.
Not too long after, a GPS app was available on the App Store; however, it has since been withdrawn. With the company preferring to concentrate on integrating Indoor positioning into iOS. However, not long after the WiFiSLAM purchase, Apple produced iBeacon. A product which uses low-energy Bluetooth technology to provide Indoors Positioning Services. These small iBeacon transmitters are low-cost and transmit two-way data from Apple and Android devices, starting with iOS7 and Android 4.3 and up.
IPS Mobile Apps
With so many big players already involved, you may be wondering when you can give it a try. How about now, there are a few mobile apps on Google Play which already incorporate the technology. Although, just how good they are is probably dependent on what you use them for. Here are a few that use it now, or their developers are looking to add IPS to in the future.
As you know, Google has been working on Indoor Positioning Services for some time. So, it makes sense that its Maps app gets it as soon as possible.
Back in 2014, members of its Mountian View team took to a local IKEA and the Mall of America to trial IPS. It works as follows, you enter a location, and the Maps app starts locating wireless routers that are nearby. Depending on their signal strength, Maps then controls your smartphones access to each syncing with each one within a 5-meter radius. This enables it to collect instantaneous data and tell you where you are indoors.
Developed by Accuware, this Android app promises a lot. Its developer claims that it is the only high-accuracy app available. Meaning that all you need is an area with multiple WiFi access points, or iBeacons and the Indoors is open to navigation.
As for setup, there’s a three-step process, once complete; it’s up and running. Which means you can detect/track a colleagues smartphone or tablet in real-time, as well as navigate an office building.
You can find out more about this app on GooglePlay.
IndoorAtlas is another third-party developer who promises to revolutionise indoor positioning. With its app, which is available on both the Apple AppStore and Google Play it offers a lot.
According to its literature, it provides a unique Platform-as-a-service solution. Using stack-hybrid technology, which is similar to the Google mesh-network I wrote about earlier. If accurate, this means, the app will be able to pinpoint an object within a building and guide you to it. However, it looks as though this apps future is tied to the likes of museums, and corporate venues rather than being consumer facing.
For this app to work, a specific location must have been mapped with the IndoorAtlass Mapcreator app.