'Indoor GPS' Coming to Mobile Devices in 2013
In the future, more smartphone apps may be able to guide you to inside stores, airports and hospitals.
CREDIT: Francie Diep
AUSTIN – If tourists strolling through downtown Austin get a craving for some Texan barbeque, they can use a location-aware restaurant app to find the best smokehouses nearby. What if they could do the same while waiting for their flights in the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport? Mobile applications now do a great job of mapping and telling people about points of interest while they're walking or driving outside. The next frontier, some experts say, is the great indoors.
“There are tens of thousands of location-aware apps today,” said Ankit Agarwal, CEO of Micello, which provides device-friendly indoor maps to app companies, during a panel held March 10 at the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festival. “All of these apps are going indoors.”
Online and device-based indoor maps are themselves just appearing. In November 2011, Google Maps launched indoor maps on Android devices for dozens of buildings in the U.S. and Japan. OpenStreetMap, another online map that many applications use, is working to do the same. As those improve, developers are quickly creating apps around them. By 2013, mobile devices will be equipped with the ability to locate, guide and sell to people not just outdoors, using GPS, but also inside hospitals, malls, airports, big-box stores such as Walmart and more, according to the panel.
Large stores are one constituency that's especially interested in indoor mapping apps, said panelist Josh Marti, CEO of Point Inside, which works with stores to create indoor apps. A navigational indoor app could help people more easily find the departments they want. Retailers also want to offer apps that bring up deals based on where shoppers are in their stores. Passing the cereal aisle on your way to the dairy section? A position-based store app could ping your phone with a two-for-one coupon for raisin bran.
Hospitals, with their branching hallways and innumerable departments, are also good candidates for indoor mapping. Though most offer a paper map at the front desk, those maps can still be difficult to use, Agarwal said. He has worked with a hospital to create a tablet that a greeter could use to print out personalized maps to guide every visitor to the right room.
The major technological problem for indoor apps is tracking where people are when they're inside, where GPS doesn't work. There are several promising approaches, panels said in response to a question from InnovationNewsDaily.
Stores that pair with shopping-deals app Shopkick install a device that makes a noise that's inaudible to human ears. Phones with Shopkick can detect the noise, however, which lets the phone know where it is in the store. The startup company ByteLight hopes to do something similar, except with LED lights that flash too quickly for the human eye to detect, but which smartphones can detect.
Developers may take advantage of so-called near field communication, a short-distance wireless technology that could help phones detect when certain products are nearby.
People can also use a combination of information from compass bearings and devices' gryoscopes and accelerometers, which are normally used by devices to detect how they're tilted, to estimate a phone's position indoors.
Expect to see the first phones that can offer the familiar “You Are Here” blue dots on indoor maps in 2013, Marti said. The first devices to get indoor-navigation apps may be Android-based, he added, because Apple doesn't allow app developers to access their phones' WiFi, which is important for indoor mapping. “The reason is, they see a huge value in indoor positioning. They know WiFi is the key,” he said. “They want a monopoly.” He hopes that in time, Apple will bow to pressure to allow outside developers to access the phone data they need to create indoor navigation apps on iPhones and iPads.
As places indoors begin to take on extra layers of information already available outdoors, we may be moving toward an “indexing of the entire physical world,” Marti said.
Agarwal pointed out that people spend 80 percent of their time indoors. Perhaps starting in 2013, something about how we spend that time will start to change.
This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to TechNewsDaily. You can follow InnovationNewsDaily staff writer Francie Diep on Twitter @franciediep. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.