I had recently attended a Q&A on three of Nokia’s upcoming innovations – Near Field Communication (NFC), Indoor Positioning and Connected Home, and in a prior post, I had brought you my impressions on NFC, this post will cover the Indoor Positioning. These technologies are part of the legends on display at the Legends Telegraph website.
Check this video on the Indoor Postitoning legend out, if you haven’t already. Now lets start with Indoor Positioning. The Q&A started with Brett from Nokia explaining what it was. The basic Indoor Positioning technology developed by Nokia uses existing WiFi access points and your phone’s ability to detect and connect to a WiFi signal (something most high-ed phones can now do). The phone uses a map of the facility with WiFi access points mapped across it (with their associated MAC addresses) and then uses signal strength detection to determine approximately where it is. This alone provides resolution down to a general area of a building (including what floor you are on), and based upon where walls are and the orientation of the access points can infer to a finer resolution. With the addition of special sensor arrays developed by Nokia and cheap “tags”, the resolution quick gets down to a meter or two.
- Firstly, what is it useful for? Here are a few possible scenarios – In large offices you could find co-workers, locate available conference rooms, or find the nearest copying machine. In a museum you could go on a tour right from your phone, and the device would automatically detect what exhibit you are standing infront of and deliver appropriate information. In a stadium you could see where your fellow spectators are and enter via the least busy gate, or know which bathrooms were least crowded during a break. In an airport you can be guided to your gate, the nearest newsstand or an information desk.
- So at what stage in the developmental process of this technology are we? Nokia has had extensive internal trials with over 50 Nokia facilities mapped and several public locations as well. Nokia will provide an online mapping tool (that will work within a web browser) so users can generate maps of any location they desire and then contribute the maps to a public database.
- User created Maps? The user will create the map and Nokia will provide super-simple tools to do so that will be embedded in a web application. The user can simply upload a JPG and trace it with a vector outline tool (kind of like Adobe Illustrator) to create the basic map. Then you can define areas (e.g., food court, department store, etc).
- WIFI? Basically this technology runs off WiFi networks, without WiFi there is no Indoor Positioning. It can leverage existing networks and no special equipment is needed.
- When can we see this for real? Anticipate a beta launch in early 2009 to the public. The beta will be worldwide, it’s up to the users to map the locations they care about.
- What happens if the WiFi hotspots are moved? If the WiFi spots are moved or updated, the map has to be updated too.
- Some that was bothering me – Since the technology works on WiFi networks and estimates the position by the signal strength – how would the phone know wherther I am on the top floor or the ground if the WiFi is positioned in the middle and both top and below have equal signal strength? Brett: Good question on the floors! Generally a floor is so solidly built in commercial structures that it kills a signal from below or above (or dramatically weakens it). So it’s easy to know what floor by what access point is strong.
- Some of this tech will also involve traditional AGPS or higher sensitivity chips or just rely on WiFi? We have special arrays we’ve developed that will get the sensitivity way up.
- All said and done if there is no internal WiFi, indoor positioning is a no go. Is that a sad but true thing? It is true. We need some signal for the phone to read to assess location in some way.
I see potential in this technology, but the absolute dependence on WIFI bothers me. There are countries where public WIFI is popular, but what about those where it isn’t? User generated maps is also a concern, although with active beta testers we would see a healthy growth in this field. To conclude, I will have to say I will continue to remain a little skeptical till I actually try it out.
What do you think, does this technology interest you?