MALL MAP­PING

‘IN­DOOR GPS’ COULD PUT AN END TO GET­TING LOST

In Flight Magazine - - TOTALLY TASTY - { TEXT: PAUL A SYMONDS: PHD CAN­DI­DATE IN WAYFINDING, CARDIFF METROPOLI­TAN UNI­VER­SITY / WWW.THE­CON­VER­SA­TION.COM IMAGES © ISTOCKPHOTO.COM }

THE UK’S GATWICK AIR­PORT IS HOP­ING YOU’LL NEVER GET LOST ON THE WAY TO CATCH­ING A FLIGHT AGAIN. THE LON­DON AIR­PORT HAS RE­CENTLY IN­STALLED A WAYFINDING SYS­TEM THAT WORKS LIKE A KIND OF IN­DOOR GPS TO DI­RECT CUS­TOMERS AROUND THE BUILD­ING US­ING THEIR SMART­PHONES. WE COULD SOON SEE THIS ‘BLUE DOT’ TECH­NOL­OGY BE­ING USED IN MORE AND MORE LARGE COM­MER­CIAL BUILD­INGS, SUCH AS SHOP­PING MALLS AND CON­FER­ENCE CEN­TRES, TO HELP US FIND THE QUICK­EST ROUTE TO A DES­TI­NA­TION – BUT ALSO TO STEER US INTO SPEND­ING MORE MONEY.

Most smart­phone users are now so used to GPS that it can be frus­trat­ing to find there’s no sim­i­lar way to nav­i­gate once in­side a large build­ing. Roofs and walls of­ten in­ter­fere with satel­lite sig­nals, mak­ing the po­si­tion­ing sys­tem no­to­ri­ously in­ac­cu­rate in­doors, if not im­pos­si­ble.

The best so­lu­tion de­vel­oped so far to map large in­door spa­ces is to place a se­ries of bea­cons in­side the build­ing that send out sig­nals to de­vices such as smart­phones to tell them where they are.The de­vice can then place a blue dot (or equiv­a­lent) on the on-screen map to pin­point the user’s lo­ca­tion, or even use aug­mented-re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy to dis­play vir­tual sign­posts telling the user where to go.

Th­ese bea­cons are rel­a­tively small, about the size of an adult hu­man hand. They are rel­a­tively cheap in­di­vid­u­ally, cost­ing any­thing from £20 (ap­prox­i­mately R350) to sev­eral hun­dred pounds each. A large num­ber of th­ese de­vices is needed to map ev­ery cor­ner of a big in­door lo­ca­tion such as an air­port – in the case of Gatwick Air­port, 2,000 such bea­cons have been de­ployed.The tech­nol­ogy al­lows for very ac­cu­rate po­si­tion­ing, as the bea­cons are able to lo­cate to within a 3 m range, ver­sus a range of up to 5 m for GPS (out­side).

Once in­stalled, the bea­cons trans­mit lo­ca­tion sig­nals via Blue­tooth to smart­phones that can use the in­for­ma­tion in dif­fer­ent ways. For ex­am­ple, users at Gatwick Air­port can use their cam­era to view aug­mented-re­al­ity ar­rows to di­rect them to a spe­cific de­par­ture gate or shop. It could also be pos­si­ble for air­lines to lo­cate miss­ing or late pas­sen­gers and guide them to their gates.

But the tech­nol­ogy can do more than sim­ply guid­ing users from A to B as quickly as pos­si­ble. In­stead, it can send users through more pleas­ant routes – or more com­mer­cially vi­able ones that pass more shops. Some shop­ping malls have al­ready star ted us­ing the tech­nol­ogy to di­rect cus­tomers to cer­tain cof­fee shops in the morn­ing and to food out­lets at lunchtime.

The tech­nol­ogy could also one day help with crowd con­trol and se­cu­rity. Mea­sur­ing the num­ber of sig­nals go­ing from each bea­con to nearby de­vices could help a build­ing’s se­cu­rity staff bet­ter un­der­stand the flow and num­bers of peo­ple in in­door ar­eas.

Of course, vir­tual wayfinding can’t com­pletely re­place phys­i­cal signs be­cause there is al­ways the chance the sys­tem could go down or the users’ phone bat­ter­ies could run out. And some peo­ple – such as those with cer­tain dis­abil­i­ties – find it hard to use smart­phone apps to nav­i­gate.

OTHER SO­LU­TIONS

The other down­side is the cost of in­stalling enough bea­cons to make the sys­tem work across build­ings that are large enough for peo­ple to need nav­i­ga­tion in, such as the 2,000 needed for Gatwick Air­port. But bea­cons aren’t the only so­lu­tion. Ex­ist­ing Wi-Fi hotspots, for ex­am­ple, can be used as a sig­nal for in­door po­si­tion­ing. The down­side is they are less ac­cu­rate, lo­cat­ing the user within a range of 5 m to 15 m – and the sig­nals can

be weak and some­times dis­ap­pear al­to­gether. This makes bea­cons a bet­ter tech­nol­ogy, given their greater re­li­a­bil­ity and ac­cu­racy in­doors.

Another idea is to gen­er­ate a mag­netic field that isn’t as eas­ily dis­rupted as the ra­dio sig­nals used by other tech­nolo­gies, and use that for po­si­tion­ing. NASA is devel­op­ing a sys­tem known as POINTER (Pre­ci­sion Out­door and In­door Nav­i­ga­tion and Track­ing for Emer­gency Re­spon­ders) that could track fire-fight­ers as they nav­i­gate burn­ing build­ings. It only works over short dis­tances and re­quires users to carry spe­cial equip­ment, but it could en­able very ac­cu­rate in­door po­si­tion­ing.

For now, only those venues with a bud­get the size of Gatwick’s will likely be able to come up with the cost of in­stalling the num­ber of bea­cons needed for in­door map­ping. In the longer term, wide­spread in­door wayfinding is only likely to be­come cost ef­fec­tive once ways are found to en­able GPS sig­nals to be used re­li­ably in in­door spa­ces – and that does not ap­pear likely in the near fu­ture. Un­til then, we’ll have to rely on a mix of bea­cons and an old-fash­ioned sense of di­rec­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.