You'll never get lost in the mall again with Google's version of IPS, the Indoor Positioning System. Using WiFi routers and cell towers, Maps can now triangulate your location inside a structure. Up until now, the powerful smartphones we carry in our pockets have been useless at indoor navigation due to poor GPS signal quality while beneath a thick slab of concrete. Help is on the way however, however, with companies like Google and Nokia working to remedy the situation with the development of inside positioning systems, or IPS for short.
The wireless technology behind IPS is nothing new as it makes use of WiFi and Bluetooth in conjunction with cell towers to triangulate your position, rather than satellites in orbit around the Earth. Using those technologies with accurate cartography of inside locations enables companies to provide location services that help consumers get to where they want to go.
The most wide-spread use of IPS comes in the form of Google Maps. Mountain View’s Maps team recently turned its attention to large structures like the aforementioned Mall of America and IKEA to test the reliability of its IPS process. As you enter one of those locations from street side, the Maps app on Android starts polling wireless routers that are placed around the area to compare coordinates with cell tower readings. These routers are strategically placed around the whole building, handing users off to each other to keep locations synced. It’s been reported that this method has an accuracy of up to 5 meters, which isn’t bad at all.
Nokia on the other hand is claiming to be able to pinpoint your location within 30 centimeters(12 inches) using Bluetooth 4.0 to communicate with smart devices. As yet unavailable to consumers, this system relies on much more hardware than Google’s method. Bluetooth doesn’t have great range, so to be able to provide location information relative to position, there would have to be quite a few Bluetooth transmitters to ensure coverage. Whether or not retailers are going to be willing to bear the brunt of the extra cost of hardware in exchange for accurate locations is yet to be seen.
There are hurdles to all the IPS technologies listed above. As you know from having WiFi in your home, signal quality can degrade with the tiniest change of where you sit, or the position of furniture or appliances. Imagine now that you are trying to administer a router in a world-class shopping mall that has tons of people and changing store fronts. It could be a nightmare to ensure everything stays up and running.