A while back, we blogged about what are the key requirements and characteristics of Indoor Navigation in What Exactly is Indoor Navigation Matter Anyways - and Why Does It Matter? In this blog, we will shift focus to the crucial foundation that must be in place for navigation to be possible at all: navigation-quality indoor positioning.
Exactly what is required for indoor positioning to be “navigation quality” is something we have learned, refined and perfected over the last 3 years in a rapidly growing footprint of over 50 million square feet of actual deployments at scale.
A Little Background on Indoor Location-based Services and RTLS
First, it is helpful to understand a little background - and therefore the distinction between navigation quality positioning and what is possible with the previous generation of location-based services developed by RTLS companies (Real Time Location Services) such as Centrak, Awarepoint, Stanley Aeroscout and Versus Technologies. Cisco has also become an important part of this space with Cisco CMX and Hyperlocation. These companies were all focused on solving a different set of problems: starting with asset tracking, but over time other needs such as workflow monitoring (e.g. Nurse Call), compliance (e.g. Hand Hygiene) and so on.
The requirements for positioning solutions for these needs were entirely different and most germane to this topic, did not require very rapid positioning updates, uniform coverage and, for some use cases, high accuracy. Where high accuracy is required - what is termed “room level” or “shelf level” accuracy, it is achieved by a hyper-locally placed monitor or “exciter” rather than any uniform and widespread positioning solution.
These technologies have proven to be very valuable and important to many hospitals and Enterprises, but what Connexient learned through hard experience is that they could not provide indoor positioning performance that meets the requirements for indoor navigation.
The Core Requirements for Indoor Navigation
So what are the core indoor positioning performance requirements for indoor navigation? These requirements are not obvious until you actually try to make navigation work at scale, as we have done. So here is our POV.
1. Dynamic Refresh
Indoor navigation requires the precise synchronization of information and prompts to the user based on their location. MediNav, for example, gives the user turn prompts exactly when needed and off route notification if they miss a turn or otherwise stray from their path. This is essential to avoiding confusion and frustration. In order to do this well, refresh rates of 1 second or less are required for true indoor navigation.
Reliability is crucial. Once you give a user a blue dot, they expect it to be available and work in the same way at all times. It cannot disappear, or lag, or be available only when the user is connected to a wireless network.
3. Uniformity of Coverage
Blue dot coverage has to be continuous, end-to-end for the entire wayfinding journey. There cannot be dead spots, or places where coverage is not available. For Connexient, this challenge also extends to providing seamless transitions between outdoor GPS and indoor BLE-based positioning, and covering areas like large atriums, outdoor walkways and garages, etc. This enables us to power our popular My Car Saver and Parking Planner features that solve some of the most important real world problems of wayfinding at large medical centers.
Why Does It Matter?
At the end of the day, we have learned that MediNav is compared to and must meet the standards of dynamic refresh, reliability and uniformity that users have been conditioned to by Google, Apple and Waze. It is a challenge that we have embraced, but is a very high bar!
But we took it on because we understood two truths.
- Indoor Maps - and even location enhanced wayfinding - will not solve the problem. In facilities of the size and complexity that we address - and generally indoors - users simply cannot cognitively relate maps to the complexity of the environment. Only true indoor navigation, which eliminates the intellectual process of map reading, actually works.
- Unless we meet the UX standards of outdoor navigation, users will become frustrated and abandon the solution. To achieve that, we must have navigation quality indoor positioning. Actually, what users don’t realize is that this positioning quality must greatly exceed anything that is achieved outdoors!
Interested readers can learn more about this in:
BLE is the Choice for Indoor Navigation Quality Positioning Today
Over the last 3 years, we have tried just about everything that is out there, and seen that the only indoor positioning technology that can meet the requirements of indoor navigation quality today is the combination of Handset Sensor Fusion together with BLE Beacons.
This this approach is similar to how your smartphone uses GPS satellites to “triangulate” your position for outdoor navigation and location-based services. In the case of BLE, the technique is called “tri-lateralization” - where we can read the signal of 2 or optimally 3 beacons at one time that have known location. This is then combined with other sensor inputs - such as WiFi and EMF “fingerprints”, accelerometer and compass - using sophisticated “Handset Sensor Fusion” and inertial navigation algorithms to produce dynamic, accurate and reliable indoor positioning.
BLE is Now a Part of the RTLS and WiFi Infrastructure
The good news is that BLE has been embraced by most leading RTLS platform and solution providers - as well as CTOs and CIOs as part of their broader "Internet of Things" strategy. This is ushering in a new era where Connexient is also supporting and leveraging BLE Beacons installed and supported by companies such as Centrak and Awarepoint, as well as BLE Beacons embedded in APs in Cisco Hyperlocation and Mist Beaconpoints.
There are 3 basic approaches to deploying BLE into the Enterprise today:
- Standalone battery powered BLE beacons.
- Powered BLE Beacon - either part of WiFi APs or as standalone units.
- USB or other “plug-ins” to existing APs.
This new landscape is enabling our clients to move toward a unified location services infrastructure, where Connexient can use the BLE beacons installed and maintained by RTLS and other vendors. Connexient can also flexibly deploy its own battery powered beacons as a bridging solution, or in many cases to supplement other BLE infrastructure to ensure uniformity and reliability of coverage.
Whatever the infrastructure choice our clients make, Connexient will leverage our Handset Sensor Fusion, proprietary calibration processes and expertise to deliver true navigation-quality indoor positioning and our indoor navigation user experience.