Apple’s Plan To Implement Indoor Mapping In Maps: An Overview

After the success of global positioning system in mapping the world, tech companies are now turning their attention to indoor navigation. The race to create the perfect indoor positioning system is on with tech giants like Google and Apple spearheading the movement. A variety of methods like Bluetooh, WiFi, Infrared, magnetic positioning are being used to map homes, work places, malls, hospitals etc. The idea is to give users a virtual sense of the building in question to better help navigate it.

What is Apple doing?
Way back in 2013, Apple took control of WiFiSLAM and with this acquisition, the world first became aware of Apple’s new area of interest. In 2014 the company invented a seamless outdoor to indoor mapping transition system that could smoothly take over when you entered a building. By 2015, Apple had three functioning indoor navigation apps. The latest in this series of long line creations is a technology that can determine floor level from a user’s position.

To create and understanding of elevation, apple will be using 3-dimenstional positioning instead of the traditional 2D system we have used so far. This is a bold step forward and can have far reaching changes, experts suggest. Using this data, a device can map different floors even if the user hasn’t specifically mentioned that the building is multistoried. It provides a practical advantage to indoor mapping.

Apps in the Market
Apple’s crowning feature, however, is the Indoor Survey app. Apple released this app without much fanfare and it became widely known to the public only when developer Steve Troughton-Smith spotted it. A product of the acquisition of WifiSLAM, the app uses RF-based technology to accurately map indoor positions. Within the survey app, users can “drop points” to indicate footfalls. The radio frequency then combines this data with iPhone’s sensor data to accurately obtain the information regarding the user’s surroundings. The itunes description boasts of no additional hardware requirement.

The app, however is far from fully functioning. It is hidden in app store search results and can only be obtained via direct link. It is evident that Apple is working up to a full scale indoor mapping system, but isn’t quite there yet. For example, on its Maps for Developers webpage, sample code called Footprint is available that demonstrates how geographic coordinates may be converted to a floorplan and MapKit.

For the general populace, iBeacons is still the best navigation tool available. Launched in 2013, the app lets tiny Bluetooth transmitters send data to users via their iPhones. While hailed mainly for its advertising aspects, the technology also has immense navigational potential. In 2014, San Francisco airport tested out an early version of the app to help visually impaired travelers navigate the airport terminal effectively.

After the fiasco that was Apple Maps back in 2012, it is understandable that Apple wishes to keep this technology under wraps till they can perfect it. Indoor Positioning systems are future of the mapping world and, judging by its various investments and patents, the tech giant is clearly not intending to be left behind. While news may be slow in this sector, we can expect something phenomenal to be revealed soon.

Latest Trends in Indoor Navigation

Finding your way in a strange city is nowadays relatively easy even when you do not have anyone to guide you, thanks to the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. The technology provides pretty accurate results, but it requires direct line of sight between satellites and receiving devices. This means that it does not work indoors. According to Prof. Kaveh Pahlavan, indoor navigation is very tricky.

Uses of Indoor Navigation

Emerging technologies make it possible to build increasingly complex buildings. People navigating such complexes can benefit greatly when they have ways of determining where they are and how to access what they want from their current locations. There are also other instances where indoor navigation proves useful:

• Floor conveyor drivers and facility management teams navigating in industrial areas
• Location-based advertisements in the retail industry
• Tracking changes and informing visitors in train stations
• Airports can display different types of information, including transmission of personalized coupons, display current wait times and support intermodal transport
• Invitation management and booking meeting rooms in offices
• Navigation in hospitals
• Pedestrian navigation to guide people with special needs

Indoor Navigation Technologies

Wi-Fi

One of the benefits of using Wi-Fi is the ability to leverage existing resources. Many buildings already have Wi-Fi access points. For navigation purposes, the technology uses “fingerprinting” method with an appropriate app installed on a mobile device. Depending on various preconditions, the accuracy may range between five and 15 meters. Smartphone sensors improve accuracy, making it possible to determine the current floor level.

Bluetooth

Although Bluetooth technology is not new, it has found new applications, especially following the development of the energy saving version, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Bluetooth beacons can run for up to two years using button cells and can cover up to 30 meters with an accuracy of one meter. The beacons are ideal for stationary purposes because they only transmit but do not receive signals.

Visible Light Communication

VLC involves the use of special fluorescent and LED lamps that emit flickering light that only photo detectors or smartphone cameras can detect. The lamps have unique IDs that are used to identify their positions on a map.

RFID

Tests have been conducted to demonstrate the use of radio frequency identification to assist visually impaired people using robots. The technology uses passive RFID tags to trigger local navigations behaviors that are used for global navigation purposes.

Drones

Apple announced that it would start using drones to improve indoor navigation for its maps. Their technology is aimed at helping users to navigate high-traffic buildings using their iPhones.

How Indoor Navigation Technology Really Work


Global positioning systems (GPS) and geo-location have just taken the next step, allowing for indoor navigation, indoor positioning, indoor analytics and indoor mapping. This could be quite useful for package delivery workers or airline passengers. People might never get lost again!

Why doesn’t GPS work inside?

Once you have a GPS device, you would probably like to use it everywhere. The problem is that GPS uses short waves that can’t penetrate buildings or handle electric interference very well. It needs open skies to work.

How does indoor navigation work?

Some buildings are quite enormous; for example, large military bases, government buildings, hospitals or shopping malls. It is easy to get turned-around and lost, especially when you are visiting for the first-time.

The inventor of the indoor navigation technology offers a software and hardware system that uses locator nodes, locator tags, Ultra-Wide Band (UWB), beacons and WiFi. There are also software development kits (SDK) to create a location based building.

Locator Nodes and Tags

There are a variety of ways that indoor navigation technology can be set up, including WiFi, UWB and locator nodes. Some facilities will combine these systems to create a comprehensive indoor positioning system. These WiFi systems work with Android, Apple, Blackberry and Windows mobile devices.

The locator nodes can be placed around your facility for capturing, tracking and positioning all mobile devices without requiring you to use a phone application. This is best for a warehouse needing to track its assets. These locator nodes serve as both a receiver and transmitter.

Locator tags are used for large areas. During a natural disaster, employees can evacuate the facility by following these locator units.

UWB

The Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) is a more expensive indoor positioning solution. It uses transit time technology (Time of Flight), which is how fast light travels between objects and anchors. This system requires at least 3 receivers (trilateration).

Beacons

Beacon transmitters use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, which can last up to eight years. These radio transmitters operate in a small space between 10 and 30 meters.

Why don’t more people know about this technology?

This technology has actually been available since 2006, but it is quite cost-prohibitive. It will require building owners to build either a complete WiFi network or place numerous locator nodes all around the building. The precision of the indoor positioning system coordinates is also somewhat questionable.

Still, airports and auto manufacturers are incorporating this indoor positioning technology into their facilities. Travelers can find their way around the large airport, so they don’t miss their flights. Package and automobile companies can make sure that they know the exact location of their supplies, inventory, merchandise, goods and packages.