We often hear how indoor navigation will help shoppers and travelers navigate busy malls or airports. But this technology has several surprising uses beyond helping individuals find your next deal or plane. Here are some interesting benefits indoor positioning will bring to the table.
Navigation for the Blind
Visually impaired travelers have been using GPS for decades. With GPS, blind travelers can identify their current street and nearby intersections, independently locate and navigate to points of interest, and record routes for independent travel. Just as outdoor GPS has dramatically increased a blind person’s ability to be self-reliant, GPS for indoors will offer similar benefits.
The blind population is a great test bed for indoor positioning systems. Various technology vendors have created indoor maps of many hotels hosting larger conventions for blind attendees, and have deployed bluetooth beacons and other technologies to test accuracy and reliability. Since blind people require more detail than do their sighted peers, indoor positioning systems built with them in mind will out-perform those that aren’t.
A building’s floor plan is often never updated. It is rendered when its blueprints are complete, and never change to account for internal structural updates. Further, floor plans are rarely augmented with additional helpful information that emerges as life is breathed into the building which they represent.
An indoor map is like a real-time floor plan. With an accurate, up-to-date map in place, buildings can offer services and capabilities previously unavailable. For instance, a factory might automate tasks by introducing robotics, enabling automata to navigate a building based on maps that receive regular updates. Similarly, emergency response can be coordinated not from a dusty blueprint, but from a map that provides detailed information about a building’s dimensions, amenities and physical characteristics.
Tremendous effort is spent inventorying warehouses and stores. The resulting work is fragile, trivially undone by moving an item or failing to update a report. Indoor positioning and geotagging combine to make the tedious task of inventorying a simple, one-time process.
By tagging items with RFID and other nearfield technologies, physical spaces can be queried like an internet search engine. A manager wondering what types and quantities of a given product are available need only enter a name or SKU, receiving a real-time report of just what is available and exactly where it is. Unlike traditional inventory systems, these results cannot be invalidated by moving an item or failing to change a database entry.
Just as traditional GPS systems changed how the world is navigated and mapped, so will indoor navigation transform interior spaces. The above benefits only scratch the surface of what will become possible when such systems become widespread.