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Google floor plan of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

GPS-style positioning/tracking is moving indoors

The Global Positioning System was developed 40 years ago this year, and it was put into full operation 20 years ago next year. Since then, many devices have incorporated GPS capabilities -- first it was dedicated electronic devices, but now just about anyone with a mobile device can use it to easily get from Point A to Point B.

But what if you are already at Point B and you want to find your way around once you go inside? “Indoor GPS” is a bit of a misnomer, since it doesn’t use GPS satellites to get a position but uses other methods such as Wi-Fi signals and sensors already present in many buildings.

For the past year, this feature has been almost exclusively used by Google in its Maps for Android.  But Google is limited by the number of building floor plans available – so far, it has managed to accumulate 10,000 floor plans spanning 13 countries. Not a lot.

But the prospects for indoor positioning could be looking up as the field of providers expands.

Apple recently acquired a company called WiFiSLAM in order to provide indoor mapping.  And last August, a group of companies, including Nokia, Samsung, Sony Mobile and 19 others, formed the In-Location alliance to further develop the technology. Earlier last year, Broadcom began shipping a microchip designed to tie together a variety of positioning feeds for indoor tracking, including of vertical positions.

Soon, everyone with a mobile device could be able to navigate any publically accessible building.

High-security government buildings are likely to be the exception, of course. But with secure mobile device management becoming more powerful and easier to implement, perhaps a secure version of indoor GPS will allow authorized personnel to make their meetings on time while still keeping people that don’t belong in the dark.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Apr 01, 2013 at 9:39 AM


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