Low adoption and insufficient research has slowed the movement of Google Maps indoors, a Google software engineer said today at the Indoor Positioning and Indoor Navigation conference held at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Google wants to make indoor maps "as solid and reliable as outdoors," said Waleed Kadous, who leads Google's indoor map acquisition efforts. However, while handset technology is ready for indoor maps, killer apps and improved location detection in unusual spaces are still needed to make indoor maps mainstream, he said.
Google has launched indoor maps in eight countries: US, UK, France, Japan, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. It has maps for more than 10,000 venues, including malls, airports and museums. Google has also released tools for businesses in several countries to upload their own maps.
Similar to the outdoor version of Google Maps, users can search for specific types of locations indoors (eg. coffee) and then get turn-by-turn directions to that spot from their current location. Unlike outside, indoor maps can track location across multiple floors in one building. Google is starting to collect indoor images similar to Street View, he said.
However, gathering indoor maps presents unique challenges compared to outdoor because it requires acquiring building maps from building owners and because GPS coverage is frequently poor inside. Location can be triangulated without GPS by using multiple Wi-Fi hotspots. Kadous estimated that Maps can currently estimate a user's location inside within 10 metres.
A major issue for indoor maps "is we haven't yet reached the point where people really know about us," Kadous said. It's a "chicken-and-the-egg" problem where users won't use indoor maps until more locations are supported, while businesses won't provide maps of their locations until they see greater consumer demand, he said.
Adding to the adoption issue, some manufacturers don't want to include critical equipment like gyro sensors in their phones due the cost and drain on mobile phone batteries, Kadous said.
Google is investing greatly to expand its number of indoor maps, Kadous said. The coverage issue may also be improved by making it easier for users to provide location data, he said. One solution may be to tap crowdsourcing and generate a map based on data from multiple users, he said.
More research is required to overcome technical issues that arise from the design and layout of buildings, Kadous said. Current academic papers tackle ideal situations and not complications including multiple floors, inconsistent Wi-Fi coverage and phones with poorly calibrated sensors, he said.
Kadous has yet to see the "killer app" that will drive usage of indoor maps. Navigation was the killer app for GPS outdoors, but may not be the most compelling use for indoor location services, he said.
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