The rise of indoor positioning systems (IPS)


As people travel to new places daily, remembering every route is tedious. But with the advent of positioning technology such as GPS (Global Positioning System) and easy access to smartphones, anyone can explore unknown realms of the world today.

These navigation systems can provide real-time location information of a mobile device anywhere within the coverage network using some signaling system to gauge the location by measuring various signal parameters and exploiting signal properties.

Although GPS using satellite infrastructure has been very successful so far, it has certain disadvantages when determining routes and tracks inside public/private places, offices, and institutes for emergencies, public management, and even security-related applications.

First, GPS signals are inaccurate due to various obstacles, such as buildings, trees, and extreme atmospheric conditions like geomagnetic storms. It does not direct to any particular building floor or any sort of room, rather just guides to the given building and not through it.

GPS is unsuitable for indoor location estimation as users’ devices might not have GPS interfaces. Even if they do, the devices cannot catch radio waves from satellites if the user is indoors in some building. Moreover, GPS requires a strong computing platform unavailable in sensor networks.

With indoor positioning systems, we can now improve navigations indoors using Wi-Fi signals for location estimation by exploiting the Received Signal Strength (RSS) values measured in any off-the-shelf mobile device equipped with Wi-Fi facilities.

What is an Indoor Positioning System (IPS)?

An IPS system tracks people or objects in a specific area using radio waves, magnetic fields, or other sensors obtained by mobile devices. Indoor Positioning Systems using radio waves have advantages over other sensors because of the technology on mobile devices capable of processing radio waves around the user.

Indoor location positioning systems provide a new layer of automation called automatic object location detection. These systems have varied applications like community settlement planning, military applications, surveillance, monitoring, mining, traveling, and the development of location-based services.

What are the advantages of an indoor positioning system? Navigation becomes easier in big buildings where people spend an enormous time finding what they are looking for. Shopping centers, airports, and museums are just some organizations where indoor positioning would greatly benefit people. With indoor positioning systems, organizations can deliver location-triggered content, location-based advertising, and much more.

How does it work?

BLE (Bluetooth low energy) beacons are the cornerstones of indoor positioning. These are small and cheap devices emitting signals according to the BLE. They can be easily mounted on walls with a mission to help smartphones determine the location. They use a battery power supply and consume very little energy. With BLE beacons, a device can detect when in range of a beacon and even calculate its position if in range of more than two beacons. Beacons repeatedly send their Universally Unique Identifier (UUID), which BLE receivers, including all sorts of smart devices, will receive. Customers and visitors can use this technology for navigation and location-based content reception.

Another common method for indoor positioning is to estimate the unknown receiver’s position by exploiting the geometric relations between Tx and Rx using Received Signal Strength (RSS), Angle of Arrival (AoA), and timing information such as Time of Arrival (ToA), Time Difference of Arrival (TDoA).

The third very common method is Wifi-based indoor positioning, in which by using a dense network of access points, taking RSSI measurements over Wi-Fi signals, determining the distance of the user’s device from individual access points, and finally applying trilateration for accurate position determination renders a close estimation of mobile device’s position in an indoor setting.

Positioning indoors is more complicated than outdoor positioning using GPS because a certain infrastructure needs to be in place indoors. GPS signals do not work indoors or in narrow streets as they tend to attenuate and scatter by roofs and walls.

The future of indoor positioning is bright, with new applications emerging utilizing the technology. BLE beacons are inexpensive, easy to install, and easy to maintain, thus making this technology available to almost every organization.

Indoor positioning technologies are beyond the pilot phase and are helping a variety of organizations to improve their customers’ experience. There is a big potential for this technology within museums, shopping centers, airports, theme parks, conferences, and event organizers everywhere, where indoor navigation and location-based content are important.