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As navigation looks indoors, new uses appear

Stephen Lawson | March 26, 2012
The maps on smartphones and tablets soon may extend into buildings, but consumers and service providers won't use indoor maps the same as outdoor, participants in the location-based services business said on Wednesday.

The maps on smartphones and tablets soon may extend into buildings, but consumers and service providers won't use indoor maps the same as outdoor, participants in the location-based services business said on Wednesday.

Indoor location was a hot topic at the GPS-Wireless conference in Burlingame, California, where panelists also discussed privacy, advertising and new services that ride on top of navigation. The indoor technology is just beginning to emerge and may be getting a burst of hype, but it has the potential for useful applications, some speakers said.

Most agreed that mapping and navigation won't play out the same way indoors as outdoors. For one thing, people don't usually need indoor maps just to find their way through a building.

"Indoor, generally, the way you navigate isn't by looking at your screen and walking around and hoping you don't bump into people," said Nick Brachet, chief technology officer of Skyhook, a developer of location-based software. Instead, people can often use familiar cues to find their way around a building. As a result, the turn-by-turn navigation that powered the consumer GPS industry in its early stages won't be the first killer app of indoor navigation, he said.

Other objectives

Rather than telling you the one optimum way to get from place to place, indoor navigation might give you a route that best serves your interests, said Ankit Agarwal, CEO of Micello, which generates indoor maps and navigation information and licenses them to developers.

Micello has mapped venues including malls, hospitals and schools, Agarwal said. Some of its ideas for how to use indoor maps came from watching shoppers using static maps at the entrances to malls, he said. They often touch items all over the map, trying to figure out the distances and best route between the different stores they want to visit. An interactive map, on a networked device such as a phone, could capture all those taps and better understand the shopper's intentions, he said. What's at stake for retailers is a purchase decision.

"Ultimately, the map becomes a way to influence that decision, and that's, I think, the ultimate reason why we want to build all the maps and own all the map data," Agarwal said. Indoor location data could help retailers offer shoppers promotions, products and information at the right time and place, he said.

Taken a step further, location data might allow a service to recommend a route around the mall that takes into consideration where the shopper's friends are, he said.

Bluetooth beacons

Nokia has tried to push the technology forward with an implementation that is now in trials in at least one store. Beacons throughout a store that use a new feature in the Bluetooth 4 standard can send signals to mobile devices with Bluetooth 4 and identify a user's location to within 10 centimeters, said Marc Kleinmaier, who handles business development for Nokia in the Western U.S. With that level of precision, a vendor could present the mobile user with a promotion on a specific product when it is right in front of the user, Kleinmaier said.

 

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