M2mobi - Blogseries Pt 1: What is Indoor Positioning?
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Blogseries Pt 1: What is Indoor Positioning?

Getting from A to B can be a tough job in complex buildings. Universities, hospitals, airports and shopping malls welcome millions of visitors a year. Finding your way through all those visitors is not always as easy as you want it to be. Therefore, next to the physical tools such as sings and floorplans, more and more organizations decide to implement Indoor Wayfinding and Indoor Positioning in their app. Indoor Wayfinding is a broad concept and is often confused with Indoor Positioning. What are the differences and which factors do you need to take account of when choosing for one of these functionalities? We explain it in our three-part blog series.

In this first blog, we give answer to the question: What is indoor Positioning? We take a look at the possibilities of this functionality and how it can add value to your visitors. Next, we’ll explain how Indoor Positioning works and which techniques can be used to achieve an accurate location determination.

Indoor Positioning

Outside, a user’s location can be determined by GPS. Yet, the complex architecture of buildings such as an airport makes it impossible to determine this location inside as well. Where GPS cannot fulfill its task, Indoor Positioning can. An Indoor Positioning System (IPS) makes it possible to determine the location of a user or object within a building. It does not make use of GPS, but communicates with other mobile sensors - such as WiFi and bluetooth - suitable for indoor use.

What are the possibilities?

The possibilities of Indoor Positioning are endless, as long as it’s used in the right way, at the right time. Indoor Positioning can be seen as a variable that allows context-based services. You can provide users with information that’s relevant to their specific location. An example of this are context based push notificaties. The location of a user is valuable information and enables you to create added value for your visitors.

img indoor wayfinding girl

Take an airport for example, a location that many passengers may experience as a stressful environment. Running late and not finding your way through the airport is a recipe for stress. Visitors have to find their way through the many shops and will unexpectedly face long waiting lines at the security checkpoint. With Indoor Positioning you’ll be able to control the visitor flow (the way visitors move through the building). Let’s say that you know where the majority of your visitors is located and you have insight into the current waiting times at the security checkpoint. In this case you could send a notification to each passenger when they have to start walking to the checkpoint. In this way you can streamline passenger flow and reduce waitingtimes at the airport.

Another example of how Indoor Positioning can provide added value is at the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS). The NS is the principal passenger railway operator in the Netherlands. Thanks to sensors in the railway, the NS app will tell whether a train unit has free seats or not. However, the app focuses on the train itself, instead of the passenger. With Indoor Positioning, this information can be combined with a passenger's location. The app could advise passengers - based on their location and free seats in the train - where they have to go for a free spot.

A third example is the personalized shopping experience users can get at a shopping mall or airport. Through Indoor Positioning, you can provide users of the app with information about shops that are located close to them. Think of information such as the logo, product category and opening hours. You can even take it to the next level using location based marketing. Retailers could reach their target group with personalized incentives such as coupons and other relevant discounts. In order to ensure that visitors make use your app, you could send them a welcome message through geofencing when they arrive at the airport or shopping mall. In this way, they are reminded that the app can help them during their visit.

img indoor wayfinding DA screen

How does Indoor Positioning work

Indoor Positioning can be realized through different techniques. An important factor when choosing for a particular technique is the accuracy of location determination. In some cases, accuracy up to a meter is needed, in other cases a range of 20 meters is sufficient.

Indoor Positioning with the use of WiFi

A common technique that’s being used for Indoor Positioning Systems is WiFi. Here, a user's mobile recognizes different WiFi access points (WAP). Next, the distance from the mobile to the different WAPs is calculated by a server, in order to determine the user’s location. In order to use this technology, users must be connected to the internet, whether this is a WiFi network or their own 4G network. The stronger the internet connection is, the more accurate the location can be determined. However, generally, using WiFi as access point is not as accurate as other techniques.

Indoor Positioning with the use of beacons

One of these other techniques is the use of beacons. Beacons are more accurate than WiFi access points. However, you also need to place more beacons - in comparison to WAP’s - in order to achieve this accuracy. Implementing this technique thus requires additional work and therefore a larger budget. Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (also called Bluetooth 4.0). With Bluetooth 4.0 applications can run on a small battery and is therefore vital for apps that only need to exchange small amounts of data. Beacons send a bluetooth signal to a user’s smartphone and the app installed on the smartphone interprets this signal. In this way, it is possible to determine a user’s location up to 3 meter.

Flexibility of an Indoor Positioning System

Not every Indoor Positioning System is as flexible as others. Some IPS’s only make use of one sensor in a mobile device, such as WiFi or bluetooth. But, there are also many IPS’s that support both. Take Orlando International Airport (MCO app) for example. This app uses the Meridian IPS, which communicates with both WAP’s and bluetooth beacons.

Another example of an IPS that uses multiple sensors in your phone is Apple's Core Location. Core Location uses all the sensors in your phone. Not only the WiFi and Bluetooth sensors, but also the magnetometer (compass) and the barometer (weather conditions). This flexibility is very convenient and does not limit app developers to one technique.

Crowd control: analyze the visitor flow

In the previous examples, we mainly focused on the app. In these examples, a user of the app shares his location with the server. The WAP's determine his location and allows the app to communicate with the server. However, the WAP’s communicate on their own with the server as well.

The WAP’s can quickly see how many devices, such as a mobile or tablet, have turned on their WiFi or bluetooth. In this way, the visitor flow within a building can be analyzed. This information can be used to respond to crowd control.

Conclusion - Indoor Positioning

In this first part of our blog series, we’ve taken a closer look at Indoor Positioning and its possibilities. Indoor Positioning can determine a user’s location in a complex building, allowing personalized features. Two important factors when choosing for a particular technique are the accuracy of location determination and the available budget.

The second topic in our blog series is Indoor Wayfinding. What is Indoor Wayfinding? how does it work and how can it contribute to a smooth and comfortable user experience? You’ll read it in our send blog. Keep an eye on our website for more.

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