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Indoor Navigation

Contributed by Joel Zimba, Special Projects Coordinator, MDTAP

Getting directions to a destination via GPS has become common place. The details of how it works depend on satellites and cell towers and map data and imps. Do not under-estimate the power of the imps. The problem is that the imps only play outside. Well, actually the GPS satellites only work outdoors, and their signal is only accurate to several meters in the best circumstances. Basically, outdoor large-scale navigation works great. Once indoors, and when you’re talking about feet or inches, things get more difficult.

Indoor navigation has yet to take off. There are many uses for it. Drones come to mind, but also finding your way through a very large building–think hospital, warehouse, mall or library will depend on a secondary positioning technology.

So far, this technology is in its infancy. We can’t even say there are competing technologies. Many approaches depend on small, short-range radio transmitters. Another innovative approach employs object and image recognition to identify location. So far, both cost and computing power seem to be getting in the way of any successful indoor positioning technology getting off the ground.

A promising system, called BPS (Beacon Positioning System) uses iBeacons. These are small BlueTooth transmitters which can triangulate a traveler’s position. Prototypes of BPS have been used in a Finnish shopping mall and are slowly being rolled out to other locations. The popular accessible navigation tool, BlindSquare, which I have written about previously, now supports BPS. Whether this will become the industry standard for indoor navigation remains to be seen. The cost of an individual transmitter is low, but installing and maintaining a few dozen of them at a given location may be too large of a stumbling block.

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