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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 offer could be targeted to shoppers based on past purchases or other factors, he said. When the customer reached the checkout stand, the discount could be applied automatically.

Aisle411 already offers an indoor navigation app for iPhone and Android that helps users locate items on the shelves of some stores. The company is in discussions with large and small retailers that want to deploy indoor navigation networks using technologies such as Bluetooth beacons, said George Arabian, vice president of business development.

Indoor location would be most useful as part of a larger search and navigation system, helping users find their way to an address and then through a store to find a product or across a convention center to find someone they want to meet, said Brian Salisbury, director of business development at TeleCommunication Systems, which makes a variety of location and telematics products.

Some speakers at the conference were optimistic about indoor location's potential. One was Bryan Trussel, CEO of Glympse, which lets mobile users share their real-time location with specific people for a defined period of time.

"In 18 months, I think that's going to be pretty commonplace," Trussel said of indoor navigation. "I think it'll be huge." Glympse envisions consumers using indoor location to find each other in malls or convention centers.

Three possibilities

The three main business cases for indoor location will be promotion, recreation or gaming, and emergency response, or a "personal OnStar" system on phones instead of cars, said Kanwar Chadha, chief marketing officer of location silicon vendor CSR.

However, the technology will need to overcome some hurdles before it's widely adopted. For one thing, indoor systems that rely on beacons carry a high cost. "To deploy, operate and manage beacons economically ... will be tough," said David Allen, chief technology officer of Locaid.

Location-based social networking company FourSquare thinks indoor location mechanisms could help it identify a user's position more precisely, leading to better recommendations to other FourSquare users in public buildings such as malls and airports. But like some other mobile app developers, it needs the technology to go mainstream first.

"As long as it's not broadly available on all platforms, it's probably not something that we can use," said Holger Luedorf, vice president and head of business development at FourSquare.

The technology is still too fragmented to be easily used across all venues, though it can be implemented consistently across one company, Micello's Agarwal said. He expects indoor location capabilities eventually to be implemented at the chip level, a process he said CSR has begun with its SiRFusion Location Platform. On Wednesday, Broadcom also announced a location chip designed for both indoor and outdoor operation, with the ability to use inputs from a wide range of sensors including inertial sensors, Bluetooth beacons and near-field communications systems. But Agarwal cautioned that it will take as much as 24 months for new location chips to proliferate through new devices in consumers' hands.

 

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