Is Your App Ready for Indoor Mapping?
Indoor mapping and location data is in high demand. If your app uses geolocation, you may be wondering whether you should incorporate indoor mapping features. Here we’ll explore what indoor mapping is, how it’s useful, and how you can get started with the capabilities.
What Is Indoor Mapping?
Indoor mapping is a process that builds a complete representation of an indoor space by mapping floor plans, indoor positioning, and other data. It allows for indoor wayfinding and navigation features, in addition to multiple personal and business uses that rely on a thorough understanding of indoor space.
Benefits of adding an indoor map to your app
Indoor maps provide substantial value for both consumers and businesses. Here are a few ways indoor maps can help your business:
Customer convenience: Indoor wayfinding can make the customer experience much more convenient in many contexts, whether they are trying to find their room in a hotel or locate a particular section in the grocery store.
Omni-channel shopping: Retailers can use indoor mapping and indoor positioning features to enhance the online shopping experience. For instance, a customer might find a product on a retailer’s app and receive precise data navigating them to the product in the real world.
Customer insight: Indoor mapping allows businesses to gain insight into what customers want through simple means such as manufacturer coupon offers or related product suggestions pushed directly to a customer’s mobile device in real-time.
Business operations efficiency: Businesses of all types can also use indoor mapping data for strategic growth, and analyze the patterns of customers’ navigation to enhance layout, merchandising, etc.
What Do I Need to Start Indoor Mapping?
If you’ve decided that indoor mapping can add value to your app and you are new to the technology, you’re probably wondering where to start. Here are some key considerations for an indoor mapping capability that works best for you.
1. Indoor positioning for your indoor map
To locate objects and people inside buildings, indoor mapping requires an indoor positioning system (IPS), which relies on various types of sensory information collected via mobile devices to map the area. There is no standard for indoor positioning systems. However, several types of system are currently available.
When evaluating IPS providers, regardless of the technologies provided, it’s important to consider the accuracy of positioning (typically described in terms of radius, by meters) and the latency, or the speed at which the IPS updates positioning data as the user moves.
High-accuracy indoor mapping projects often rely on beacons, but not always. Bluetooth low-energy beacons are popular for their long lifespan on a single battery charge, with some lasting for two to eight years.
- How they work
- Bluetooth beacons transmit a signal over an interior space of 10 to 30 meters. Generally costing very little, these devices are quite convenient and can be installed with minimal effort. They work across multiple platforms, maintain an accuracy of up to one meter, and can be easily installed.
- Beacons can be used for both client- and server-based applications. In a client-based model, data is transmitted directly to the smartphone or device from the beacons over a radius of up to 30 meters. In a server based application, beacons transmit data to locator nodes, which are then sent to a server. This allows for a wider radius of up to 75 meters. However, the accuracy is reduced to less than eight meters.
- Placement and attenuation
- When positioning beacons, there are a couple of additional factors to consider. One is potential interference. In buildings with lots of Wi-Fi signals, there could be significant interference with Bluetooth beacons, as signals are transferred on the same 2.4 ghz frequency.
- Additionally, certain building materials can attenuate the signal of beacons, requiring more of them to cover the area. Generally, the more dense the building material, the greater the attenuation. For example, wood is a low attenuation material, and brick causes medium attenuation. Metal would cause extremely high attenuation, as would people within the space.
- Pros and cons
- Beacons are very common in IPS due their affordability and ease of set up. They are, however, somewhat difficult to scale over large areas, and they can be limited in terms of accuracy. For that reason, some IPS providers offer alternative or complementary methods for positioning.
Other indoor positioning systems
Several beacon-free systems exist for indoor positioning, some with more intelligence and better location precision than beacons.
One such system is a network of smart receiver antennas. These antennas use signals from anything with a bluetooth chip, such as tags, ID badges, and mobile devices. Therein lies the intelligence because there is no reliance on costly hardware or apps being in use. Plus, it offers continuous location tracking.
The receiver antenna network can hone down to 10 to 20 centimeters, which is much closer than the three to four meters of a beacon. This is possible with multiple receivers in an antenna to determine the Angle of Arrival (AoA)—the direction of signals to determine the exact location.
For example, a beacon at a warehouse can tell which section of an aisle an item is located. A network of receiver antennas, however, all receive signals from various bluetooth chips. The network combines all of these angles and distances to determine exactly which box the item is in.
Direction of departure (DoD) is the mobile version of AoA. This type of system uses multiple devices to measure location. Location privacy is possible with this type of system because the location measurements are done on the devices rather than the network.
There are other location systems available, such as RFID, infrared, and Ultra Wideband (UWB) chips, but they either do not have the accuracy of AoA, do not work with mobile devices, or have continuous tracking limitations.
2. IoT Sensors for Indoor Mapping
IoT sensors can detect changes in the environment, such as temperature, movement, etc., and offer valuable data. When IoT sensors are connected to the internet, they can communicate with apps, other devices, and even humans.
IoT sensors can add useful data to your indoor mapping capabilities, in addition to indoor location beacons that map location data. There are a variety of connected sensors that can monitor a range of attributes, including:
- Occupancy: Data on how many people are in a building at a certain time can help with capacity planning, layout, scheduling, etc.
- Temperature: Food service establishments, for example, can monitor the temperature of refrigerator and freezer rooms and identify any issues.
- Comfort: A number of sensor types can transmit data that indicate comfort factors like airflow, humidity, etc.
- Motion: Motion-sensing technology is helpful for collecting information on foot traffic in different areas.
3. Semantic Labeling
The creation of a useable indoor map requires distinguishing and making sense of the objects, spaces, and structures in an indoor space. For example, floors and shelves need to be classified appropriately so that the app can navigate a customer across the floor, without attempting to traverse shelves.
This can also be extended to particular environments that need to be indicated. For instance, employee-only work areas might need to be marked off as unavailable for public foot traffic in wayfinding functions. In buildings with different room types, it might be necessary to indicate these room types for certain functions, such as conference rooms, exercise areas, or restaurants in a hotel.
For this, you will need a well-defined semantic labeling system to assign data attributes to different classes.
What Does My App Need for Indoor Mapping?
To integrate indoor mapping into your larger app and connect its data to your servers, you need two critical components: a software development kit (SDK) and application programming interfaces (APIs).
The tools within an SDK can be used to add indoor mapping as a component to your app. So, it’s critical to choose an SDK that is available for the platforms you want to build your app for. It should generally be easy to use and make it easy for developers to change and customize the user interface.
APIs will connect your mapping platform to other data sources that you maintain in other servers. They are essential for keeping maps updated in real-time, capturing data from the platform, and integrating third-party data.
When you evaluate platforms to help build your interface, ask yourself a few questions:
- How will users interact with the map?
- How will they perform common mapping tasks?
- How can users zoom in/out or navigate between floors?
- How do they search for items?
- How do users see where they are now?
WRLD’s 3D map SDKs and APIs make the app-building process easier by providing all the tools you need for common user interactions.
Get Started With Indoor Maps
It’s important to think about all of these points to see if your app is ready for indoor mapping—which indoor positioning system you are going to use, if you have IoT sensors set up, whether you factored in semantic labeling, and which SDKs and APIs you need. If you are ready to get started, check out our beginners guide to creating indoor maps.
With WRLD, you can create engaging and smart building solutions with accurate indoor 3D maps. You can create custom maps and integrate with IoT data for next-level employee and visitor engagement.