GPS has been the gold standard in outdoor navigation (along with its counterparts in other regions like GLONASS). However, indoor navigation through buildings or even underground, is difficult or even impossible because GPS essentially requires line-of-sight with satellites. Solving for the problem of indoor navigation, app developers use different methods in order to give accurate map renditions. One solution is to create indoor maps with the phone and upload it to the user or building's database. These usually end up with maps which are used solely by the building or business owner. Another is the use of magnetic resonance, such as the solution being developed by IndoorAtlas.
Yet another solution was presented by Movea at CES in Las Vegas earlier this month. With a combination of GPS, WiFi, 3G/4G triangulation, and the smartphone's builtin accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, and pressure sensor acting as an altimeter, Movea has created a self-correcting indoor navigation system.
Movea has more than 20 years of experience in motion sensing software, which they have used to their advantage in this app. With the use of available tools ans sensors that already come built-into smartphones, Movea's app is able to accurately determine indoor location against a building's blueprint.
The GPS and WiFi trianguation is only used for data outdoors. That's because GPS works best when in line of sight. Even on the best days, GPS has an accuracy of about 10 meters. Nearby buildings and structures give signal readings that will often disrupt the signals, hence the difficulty in geo-location in a crowded metropolis full of skyscrapers. Movea's system initially reads from GPS, and then WiFi triangulation is used to improve on the location. Indoors, all the other phone tools are used in calculating position. Like a pedometer, the app asks for the user's height, which gives a good idea of how much distance is travelled for each step. This would be used as a basis for calculations distance travelled.
The accelerometer and gyroscope is used to determine speed of travel (whether the user is walking or running). If a building blueprint exists, this can be uploaded to the app and the data being processed is compared with the blueprint. If the app finds any inconsistencies, like walking through walls, corrections are made to improve the navigation.
If the phone has a pressure sensor, it will be used for pressure readings to determine if the user is riding an elevator. Of course, not all smartphones have a magnetometer or a pressure sensor. If the phone has a magnetometer, it will be used along with the gyroscope to act as a compass and help in creating a vector for any movement.
When in use, the system constantly calculates all the data from the phone sensors to help determine the user's location and direction. It also updates the phone map and the directions to the destination. Directions are more reliable with smartphones which have more sensors. Additionally, regular use would also help the app learn as it adapts to the user and the environment.
At the moment, the biggest drawback is the lack of blueprints. The software uses the building blueprint as the initial map. Movements are calculated against the map, and then recalibrated while the app is in use. It would stop giving directions while it recalibrates location and recalculates for instructions on how to go to a cerain location.
The availability of building blueprints may be the biggest hindrance to accurate indoor navigation. However, Google and other companies are already working on acquiring this data, which will help users navigate through malls, university campuses, airports, museums, and other places of interest. After Google Maps and Google Earth popularized geo-location among smartphone users, the next step in competition is likely in the indoor mapping arena.
Movea's system actually goes beyond mapping and indoor navigation. The company also develops motion-tracking and sensing systems for various applications. As such, indoor location might only be the first step. Movea might, in the future, provide motion-sensing interfaces for smartphones, tablets and other portable devices, much like Microsoft's Kinect and Leap Motion’s The Leap, which is already being built-into some portable systems.
Will Movea be the future of indoor-tracking and motion-sensing interfaces? It's still too early to guess, but with different takes on how to track indoor movement and map motion, it will be interesting to watch and see how companies will be able to perfect their systems in the years to come.