Mapping the great indoors is the next great frontier in Location-based Services, and so far, many companies have come out with novel solutions which they hope will be the holy grail in indoor navigating (think of all the targeted, location-based advertisements one could profit from, and the first bite of the cherry of entire new markets of captive affluent, urban consumers).
So far, we have WiFi triangulation, Bluetooth beacons (which are two of the most popular indoor locating methodologies at the moment), amongst others such as high-end chipset installations, which are all feasible solutions-in-waiting to the Indoor Locating conundrum. However, what all these factors decidedly lack is scalability – given the kind of massive cities we are now living in, installing beacons in every single building is a daunting, and quite uneconomical prospect – as is installing expensive new chipsets into smartphones. While being less afffected by such issues, WiFi triangulation is not immune to problems of scale too – this method largely depends on the number of access points and networks for effectiveness, and may not be as reliable a navigation method.
This is where the spiny lobster, the homing pigeon, and a Finnish start-up may hold the key. Inspired by migratory animals accurately finding their way across continents without the use of GPS devices or smartphones, IndoorAtlas uses the earth’s ambient electromagnetic fields to pinpoint indoor location. Put in very simplistic terms, the user navigates based on referencing each building’s unique magnetic field map (created by the very interferences generated from architecture and building materials that make indoor locating so difficult in the first place), which is stored in IndoorAtlas’ map database. In terms of hardware, all the user needs is basic compass and sensor functionalities on his phone.
So far, this has perked the interest of Chinese search giant Baidu, which has poured $10m into IndoorAtlas. The reason for this investment, in the words of Baidu’s vice-president and head of LBS, Liu Jun? “IndoorAtlas’ accuracy and scalability is second to none”