Indoor Geopositioning Through the Internet of Things
While I was at IBM Insight last month, I attended a few labs and sessions on (or related to) the Internet of Things (IoT). My take on the Internet of Things is still along the lines of what I had written during InterConnect in February. That is, the Internet of Things helps us to gather data on anything that we are particularly interested in–from a motor, to a room, or a person–and gives us the opportunity to analyze this massive amount of data in ways that were previously unthinkable. One great and upcoming application for the Internet of Things, as discussed at Insight, is geopositioning. Let’s take a look at why this is important to both businesses and consumers, as well as some hardware options to assist with geopositioning applications.
Gathering Data with Geopositioning Hardware
The first step to geopositioning using the Internet of Things is data gathering. A variety of wireless standards are used by consumers daily via devices such as smartphones, smartwatches, and gaming devices. Although GPS is frequently used with great success when outdoors, the accuracy of GPS indoors is very poor. Instead, Wi-Fi and iBeacons are preferred for geopositioning indoors.
Wi-Fi routers may already be present in the location you want to track, and will directly benefit anyone looking for internet access. As wireless signal strength can be related to distance, these routers can be used for tracking by measuring the signal strength of devices in their area.
Another option for gathering positioning data is to use iBeacons. These are very small devices–typically the size of a person’s fist–which emit Bluetooth signals. Beacons can be used for geofencing to display notifications on devices that come within range of them, but smartphone apps can also be used to read the signal strength of nearby beacons for geopositioning similar to Wi-Fi.
Putting the Data Together
Tracking a person’s position can be accomplished when the positions of all beacons and Wi-Fi routers are known, and signal strength measurements are gathered either by multiple Wi-Fi routers at once for each personal device, or by having the personal device send information about which routers and beacons it detects, and what signal strength each object has. With just a few Wi-Fi routers in range of a smartphone, trilateration or use of centroids can be used to find the position of that smartphone, and by extension, that phone’s owner.
Accuracy, however, can be challenging for these wireless technologies. Signal strengths fluctuate often, and in populated environments, obstructions can interfere with signals frequently. Be sure to position all Wi-Fi routers and beacons such that multiple people in one place will not significantly affect signals from reaching all of the devices in that area. It is also a good idea to have your design account for places in which people cannot exist, such as within walls or trees. This will narrow down the positions that each person can be located at, and reduce erroneous placement.
Benefits for Customers and Businesses
One example of indoor geolocation, as explained to me at IBM Insight, is to analyze behaviors of customers within a shopping mall. The mall and store owners may be interested to know how long their customers are staying, where they are going, and the time they spend within a store. To accomplish this, both beacons and Wi-Fi routers are used to detect where customers are, and when they enter and leave an area. This information can be further improved upon by including demographic information, perhaps by having the customer complete a form or survey. This mall example is great because it can benefit not only the business, but the customers as well. In the implementation, use of Wi-Fi routers can provide free Internet access to the visitors, and beacons can be used for promotional purposes within stores. And on the other hand, the businesses can use the tracking data to help modify their offerings or layouts to improve customer satisfaction and the amount of time customers spend in the stores.
I expect to see more use of indoor positioning as availability of cheap and/or highly accurate wireless positioning hardware increases, and some of the use cases are quite exciting. Personally, I’m interested in having an indoor version of Google Maps to help me navigate stores. What would you like to see with geopositioning? Let us know in the comments section below.