Indoor / Outdoor Navigation using Proximity Devices

The Internet of Things (IoT) represents the connectivity of modern technology and the growing network of smart devices that are able to communicate with one another. As technology becomes better and more affordable, the digital ecosystem will only continue to grow. Digital wayfinding will become increasingly prominent, precise, and widespread.

In the past, GPS has proven hugely useful for large operations outdoors, but there are limited possibilities for indoor or more compact settings. Bluetooth is one of the few technologies offering real-time, affordable opportunities for such use cases.

Bluetooth, a wireless technology standard for exchanging data, has the potential to effectively and naturally engage customers indoors. In recent years, Bluetooth has evolved to become the global standard for the IoT revolution. Energy-efficient Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology has made a number of completely new technological applications possible. 

Indoor Navigation

One major disruptor is the Bluetooth beacon or “tag.” The functionality of Bluetooth beacons is relatively simple. They send out a signal that is picked up by Bluetooth devices in the area. This signal indicates the Bluetooth user’s proximity to that beacon and, subsequently, the approximate location. Additional beacons can be installed to accurately identify an individual’s position down to meter level. Compared to other technologies, BLE beacons are very affordable. The technology is also easily integrated with other systems and everyday devices due to the existing widespread adaptation of the Bluetooth standard.

The low cost of the technology makes it applicable in settings where highly advanced systems might not have been otherwise feasible..

Bluetooth is not the first technology to address the problem of wayfinding. Companies have used NFC, QR codes, and GPS to try to tackle it. Many of these solutions, however, have proven either ineffectual or impractical. GPS, though great for several large-scale or outdoor scenarios, is not suitable to the indoors or more precise tracking.

There are several uses for NFC and QR, but in wayfinding they often hit a snag. They both act as point-based systems as opposed to grid-based. This means an app can only say “you are standing here” instead of showing any kind of real-time path. If the user turns the wrong way, they will not know it until they scan at the next point. This is a huge difference for users who are accustomed to instant information from apps like Google Maps. This method requires constant checking and is not so different from physical maps; beacons, however, can make indoor, outdoor, and more precise wayfinding a near real-time experience.

The difference between WiFi and Bluetooth

WiFi has become one of the most widespread platforms, and it is one obvious answer in proximity marketing. However, it does not necessarily offer the best foundation for wayfinding.

Indoo.rs CTO Ronald Berger the differences between WiFi and Bluetooth as used in indoor navigation. He explained three primary differences.

Modern WiFi-based systems generally require an entire infrastructure complete with wired access points capable of receiving signals and determining position. Beacons don’t require this kind of infrastructure. With beacons, smartphones can do all the heavy lifting. Even if you did use the smartphone in a WiFi-based infrastructure, it would still not be practical as the signal strength is most often adapted dynamically by the access points which makes it unusable for a wayfinding system.

This leads to the second defining factor: accuracy.

Accuracy with WiFi will rarely be better than 10 meters. For a lot of use cases, that just isn’t enough. On the other hand, Bluetooth-based solutions can achieve 2-3 meter accuracy. Finally, indoor navigation with WiFi is not natively supported on iOS. Apps on these phones cannot scan for a WiFi signal. They can’t use trilateration or fingerprinting methods used for indoor navigation. While it is possible with Android, the instability of the signal still makes it impractical

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Indoor Navigation