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Geolocation is a constantly improving technology with a myriad of potential uses. By utilizing combinations of common mobile device technologies like GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi positioning, NFC, Bluetooth beacons, and MEMS sensors, it is possible to locate and track devices (and their users) nearly anywhere. With purposeful implementation and a little imagination, the possibilities for geolocation’s usefulness will continue to grow alongside the field’s technological advancements.
The Benefits of Geolocation
Geolocation is not an entirely new concept, however, as its accuracy and affordability have improved, so has its ubiquity. Nearly every network-enabled smartphone or wearable available on the market is capable of taking advantage of some kind of geolocation interface.
GPS technology, for example, has permeated so many facets of daily life; it can be used to provide interactive maps, track packages, generate relevant weather and news reports, find missing or stolen electronic devices, share your location with a friend or family member, track lost pets, generate location-based advertising, provide location information for emergency first responders, and so much more.
GPS works as an effective and accurate location protocol by triangulating positions based upon satellite signals. Geolocation devices that rely solely on GPS typically do a good job at pinpointing a device’s location down to a specific address, but what happens when a user goes inside? This problem has led to a push to improve the accuracy of indoor geolocation and indoor positioning systems (IPS) that can pick up where GPS tracking leaves off.
The Growing Benefits of Indoor Geolocation
The age-old problem with indoor geolocation is that the most reliable methods for outdoor GPS-based geolocation simply aren’t reliable when there are walls and ceilings in the way. Thankfully, the technological hurdles are getting cleared.
As it stands now, indoor geolocation tends to rely upon an amalgamation of different signals including Wi-Fi positioning, Bluetooth beacons, motion sensors, and other radio wave-based technologies. By combining data points from these common signal-types, it is possible to triangulate a user’s indoor position with increasing fidelity.
Tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all invested in indoor-focused geolocation over the past few years and the market is continuing to expand. Startups are emerging across the globe focusing on both the geolocation mapping of building interiors as well as on the devices needed to produce high definition user tracking in those spaces.
The potential use-cases for IPS are promising. Hospitals could have real time maps showing the locations of patients and staff. Schools could accurately locate students on campus. Parents could find lost children in a crowded mall or amusement park. Emergency personnel could locate occupants of a skyscraper. Firefighters and police could be accurately coordinated while responding inside buildings.
As the reliability and widespread adoption of these technologies grow, the potential uses for geolocation data and geolocation applications will become even more powerful. As such, the need for cost-effective wearable devices to take advantage of indoor geolocation will grow as well.
The Role of Wearables in Indoor Geolocation
With companies and industries working to map the interiors of retail centers, landmarks, performance venues, hospitals, and other crowded interiors, the need for consumer products capable of taking advantage of indoor geolocation apps is growing. At the end of the day, a building can be equipped with all the beacons and radio waves they like; it is a fruitless (and costly) exercise if they are incapable of interacting with end-users.
Many people currently carry or wear devices that are capable of interacting with indoor mapping protocols. That being said, it should be noted that while there is an extent that consumers are willing to offer up access to geolocation data from their personal devices in exchange for a certain conveniences, relying upon that cooperation can be problematic.
Expecting users to offer up their devices’ signals could prove to be a major limitation to the value and adoption of indoor positioning. Such a buy-in will increasingly require deliberate assurances and protections against unwarranted obtrusions into user data. Even then, many consumers simply may not want their personal wearables or smartphones to become tracking devices.
Instead, what if buildings could make accurate, unobtrusive geolocation devices available to patrons? By uncoupling users’ geolocation data from their personal devices (and the private data contained therein), it would stand to reason that there would be more of a willingness to engage with indoor geolocation.
Similar to the rise of GPS usage over the past decade, the future of indoor geolocation will continue to grow and evolve as technology improves its reliability and people are presented with meaningful, unobtrusive ways to incorporate it into their lives.