Indoor navigation is another step in transforming our digital lives

20 May 2018 | By João Fernandes

How do people move around their hospital? What route do they take to the airport? Where does a mall get the highest footfall? When are people most likely to buy food at a stadium? Data can help answer all of these questions and many more. – João Fernandes, BuzzStreets

João Fernandes, founder and CEO of BuzzStreets, explains how data captured from within buildings will be used to improve user experience of large developments such as retail centres, offices and hospitals.

Outdoor navigation technology matured years ago – we now all walk around with a detailed map of the world in our pockets. But what happens when you enter a building? The navigation drops out. That’s because map technology is enabled via GPS – satellite technology – which is limited at picking up phone frequencies from within buildings.

The rise of indoor navigation

Fortunately, solutions to this particular problem have already been developed. Most use Bluetooth beacons positioned around a building’s interior to ping a user’s mobile device, allowing an app to pinpoint the user’s location to within a few feet.

There are more sensitive solutions which allow for centimetre-accurate positioning, but that’s usually overkill for something the size of a person.

These beacons are becoming cheaper and more reliable, making them a cost-effective solution for most large and complex indoor environments, such as hospitals, airports, and sports stadiums.

Every environment has its own unique technical challenges, however, meaning indoor navigation requires an expert consultancy rather than a DIY approach.

BuzzStreets, for example, is working on a number of pilot projects with hospitals, offices, and stadiums to iron out these kinks, while Google is offering DIY indoor mapping without navigation features.

In the near future, we will see the combination of these technologies, providing a quick and simple solution for businesses and venues of any size. At this point, we will quickly reach a critical mass of businesses providing indoor navigation and the whole world will be navigable – indoors and out. 

You’ll be able to go from your front door to the specific room, that you need to be in, within the building you are visiting. Navigation will take you all the way – not just to the outside door by reception.  

The evolution of indoor experiences

Indoor navigation isn’t just about getting people from A to B, however – it’s about the journey and experience as you make that trip from one place to the next.

Indoor environment – particularly commercial spaces like shopping malls – will need to change to continue to attract shoppers and fend off the growing e-commerce sector. To do this, shopping malls and individual stores will offer shopping experiences.

Imagine going into a shopping mall and seeing marine animals swimming through the air, with games and news appearing on virtual screens around you. As you approach your favourite footwear shop you can already see whether they have the shoes you wanted before receiving a special discount code. As you step inside the lighting changes and your favourite band plays softly in the corner.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a sci-fi vision. BuzzStreets has already been exploring augmented reality (AR) ideas such as these to offer shoppers and sports fans a rich, immersive environment to explore.

When hands-free, wearable devices become the mainstream, this futuristic vision will become a reality.

The dawn of deep data

Data has become more and more important over the last few years. It’s big, it drives things, and everyone wants a piece of it. It’s been accused of swinging elections and found to help cure cancer. It’s the new oil.

And anonymous navigation data, especially indoor data, holds a great power: the ability to transform the world.

Sound a bit grandiose? It really isn’t. For thousands of years we’ve been improving our transport systems, our public services, healthcare, and everything else, through a combination of guesswork and the scientific method. Results are slow to come and never seem to capture the whole picture.

With a global population of more than 7 billion people and rising, the world can’t wait for the results of a five-year trial before making important changes. The world is too complex and fast-moving for that traditional approach. Gathering data in real-time allows us to put our theories to the test, develop new models, and make useful changes quickly and accurately.

How do people move around their hospital? What route do they take to the airport? Where does a mall get the highest footfall? When are people most likely to buy food at a stadium? Why are people visiting your office block?

Data can help answer all of these questions and many more. Businesses can optimise their environments to improve the user experience, save money, and change our lives.

The same approach can also be applied to inanimate objects, such as hospital equipment. If you need a specialist piece of equipment, but it’s not where it should be, location data can help you track it down. Perhaps you find that some equipment is regularly moving long distances through the hospital building, in which case perhaps it would save time and money to buy a second machine.

There are almost infinite ways in which the data gathered by navigation software could be used to improve our lives. The only limit is our imagination.

João Fernandes is the founder and CEO of BuzzStreets, a B2B navigation and location-based services solution