“Give me directions to Myer, Pitt Street Westfield”
Here’s the scenario: You urgently need new jeans and so need your phone to get you there as quickly as possible. This means knowing either where in the car park you need to park, which tube station exit is best, which bus stop to get off at and which door you need to use to get there as fast as possible.
In order for this request to work, your phone needs to know which floor and which part of Westfield the Myer store is in.
In the future, it won’t necessarily even be you doing the routing; your autonomous car will take you there and will need to know the optimum route, ensuring you don’t end up miles away from the indoor location you are trying to get to.
Imagine you are going to the hospital for an appointment. Hospitals can be vast and confusing. Missing your appointment because you’ve gotten lost along the way, or haven’t accounted for traffic is costly for the NHS and means that you won’t get the treatment you need.
From navigation to the context of your surroundings, delivering enhanced customer services, improving efficiencies for employees, enhancing digital and physical experiences, unlocking new visitor experiences, to simply knowing where you are; there are thousands of reasons that companies are investing in indoor location.
Whether you need to catch public transport, be redirected due to traffic ahead of your journey, or leave at a certain time because of predicted traffic conditions, the mapping app you use on your phone is already able to tell you when you need to leave. Taking this to encompass indoor locations will help to further enhance your experience and make mapping apps even more useful.
Already, we’ve seen Google’s Project Tango pointing to a future where your phone is able to map the world around you. We’ve also seen Apple’s Indoor Survey app, launched last year, being used to map indoor navigation using RF signals and your phone’s existing sensors.
Indoor location is something that Mnet has been working with companies on for the past few years. Regardless if we are looking at an enterprise use case for security checks, or a consumer use case for finding the closest toilet to you; indoor location is important.
Outdoors our devices use a mixture of GPS, cellular triangulation and Wi-Fi to deliver accurate positioning. Indoors, however, cellular triangulation and GPS degrade in accuracy. This is why both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are being enhanced to deliver better indoor location services. Together, these technologies are able to help pinpoint our location and guide us to where we need to go.
However, there are challenges to using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Current Wi-Fi access points are unable to deliver accurate enough location; without deploying a large number of units across a building. Bluetooth is a lower cost alternative, though requires deployments to be properly optimised. One of the biggest challenges across both of these is that current deployments only work within apps that have been optimised for each deployment.
Bluetooth beacons have been used effectively to provide accurate positioning, when combined with a fingerprinted database (RF map of the environment), positioning algorithms and phone sensors. This yields 1-3 meter accuracy, your orientation and refresh rates of under a second.
As it stands, BLE is believed to be the highest performing option on the market. Our friends at SenionLab have one of the best solutions we’ve seen, enabling the blue dot experience to deliver location services through Bluetooth signal triangulation. It’s system has been deployed in shopping centres around the world to help enhance in-app experiences and deliver new types of customer service.
Wi-Fi systems yield lower accuracy (2-5m) and significantly lower refresh rates. Compounding this further is that each OS deals with Wi-Fi in different ways. iOS doesn’t allow for a developer to read the received signal strength indicator (RSSI) value from a Wi-Fi access point (AP). Apple’s reasoning for blocking this is to help better manage battery life. Android, however, does allow developers to read RSSI values, meaning they can use location algorithms directly, within apps, to calculate your position.
For iOS, the only other option is to utilise other wireless communication methods, where the OS has access to the raw RSSI value, namely Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons, for example). This is what SenionLab cracked.
We have heard rumblings for the past few years that indoor location is the next big thing to come to mapping systems; yet the challenges involved with accurately delivering location continue to persist. One of the other big challenges will come from who delivers indoor location information.
Clearly, if you are a large enterprise, you don’t want your floor maps and internal layouts available for anyone to see. Instead, you would want to be able to control this type of experience and only enable employees to see it.
Going back to the example of Westfield, there is value in understanding what users are searching for in maps and how people may be moving around a venue. This is especially true if you are paying for the infrastructure that enables indoor location. Unless people are using your own app with indoor location capabilities, relinquishing control of this may mean that it’s harder to gather this insight.
Google sells services to companies to promote their businesses through Google Maps, which includes some level of insight into how many people are looking for their business and the ability to use keywords. If you are a business that owns hundreds of sites, being able to understand the metrics of people searching for your business, visiting your premises, the amount of time they may spend on premise or other insight or data available – you’d want it.
This is why many companies are adding indoor navigation to their own apps. Once customers enter their premises, the ability to deliver enhanced, customised and relevant services means that they can deliver an overall better customer journey and experience.
What we see happening is that there will be a mixture of both approaches in the future. Companies can’t really afford not to enable people to route to their store, if they are inside a building. Users will expect that type of experience once it becomes more commonplace. Yet, for more regular customers, having more of a personalised experience will help with retention.