Connexient was founded with a singular, driving vision: to develop and deliver a true turn-by-turn indoor navigation experience that would be as intuitive and useful as that which billions of users enjoy with mobile navigation apps in the "outdoor" world by companies like Google, Apple and Waze. Over the last few years, we have worked very hard - and while we are by no means finished - we have been able to achieve that vision.
What's So Special About Indoor Navigation?
The short answer is simple: it's the only thing that really solves the problem.
Connexient's vision and commitment to the goal of indoor navigation came from our founders deep experience and understanding - born of 20 years developing and implementing wayfinding signage sytems in hundreds of hospitals at GDS, Inc. - that the complexity and scale of hospitals and healthcare networks pose wayfinding challenges such that nothing other than "blue dot" navigation will actually solve the user problem. Large medical centers encompass millions of square feet, of interconnected buildings and associated parking options, and campuses can have dozens of buildings or more. In total, they are truly labrynthes on an epic scale!
Maps and directions alone - even with a blue dot indicating a user's indoor position - simply are not good enough. Only true turn-by-turn navigation, where the user is guided at every step and moment of their journey can keep users on track all the way to their destination. Without that, frustration quickly sets in and patients and visitors will revert to the current wayfinding solution: the next staff member that happens to walk past them. It doesn't matter if that is a nurse or a neurosurgeon, they are going to have to walk that person to where they are going!
What Exactly Is True Turn-by-Turn Indoor Navigation?
This is an important question, and one where there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace. Here are the key features in what Connexient defines as true turn-by-turn indoor navigation. Not suprisingly, you will find the same capabilities in all of the leading outdoor navigation apps. That is what a user expects and will require in order to find indoor navigation to be intuitive and useful.
1. The user's position must drive the user's view of the map and route
This is essential. Hospitals are simply too complex - and the external references too varied - to ask the user to read and understand a map and correlate the blue dot to where they are. The driving principle of blue dot navigation is that the user does not need to understand or even care where they are. They simply need to continuously understand that they are on the correct path and heading.
2. The Map Visualization Must Provide a "Balcony View"
In outdoor navigation, this is called the "Birds Eye" view. Anyone that spent years using in-car navigation systems before using Google Navigation for the first time knows why this is so important. Navigation is about what is next. The straight overhead map view constricts the user to a box of where they are now, and is a relic of map reading, not navigation. In navigation, the user must always be focused on the next landmark, turn and decision point.
3. Turn Prompts and Directions Must Be Synchronized with Location
Rich, accurate maps and step-by-step directions are very important as part of an overall digital wayfinding solution, but they have nothing to do with navigation. In a navigation UX, information must be reduced to what is critical - which is the exact instruction delivered at the right moment when approaching the next decision point in a route. Everything else is noise. That requires careful synchronization of prompts and guidance with users current and dynamically changing location. Audio / voice prompts are a useful option - that can even eliminate looking at the screen - but must be user and admin configurable in a hospital environment to ensure they are not disruptive.
4. Off Route Notification & Recalculation
No matter how good and precise the navigation UX, users will get confused and miss turns or other errors from time to time. It is essential that in these moments that the user is prompted quickly and can be guided back to their route - or recalculate and re-start their route. If this does not happen, users will lose confidence rapidly and abandon the navigation app (and go back to that carbon-based solution walking past them!).
5. Visual Landmarks Are Important
Finally, external references - "visual landmarks" - are very useful to assisting users if they get confused and reassuring them as they progress on a route. Once again, this often has very little to do with what is important for map reading. What matters is not where you are, but rather what you see.
A critical part of the MediNav deployment process is our wayfinding survey, where we systematically record and add into the app visual landmarks that users actually sees as they walk through a building. In lobbies, atriums and open areas, there are shops, artwork, fountains and so on that can be particularly valuable to orienting the user. In interior hallways, there are signs, doors, cross hallways and so on. But the key is at all times the landmark reference in the app must be exact, clear and synchronized with the user's current visual viewpoint.
All of these elements must be woven together into a sequence of UI events that are intricately choreographed with the user's location and on-the-ground experience of his or her route . The user does not need to understand or read a map - which is an entirely different and much more intensive cognitive process - or even understand where they are. They just follow the route, blue dot and prompts without having to think. That is when you know it is a navigation user experience.
Connexient's MediNav incorporates and coordinates all of these features into the delicate dance of navigation. We believe and our experience has shown us that it is a fundamentally different experience from "blue dot wayfinding", and it the only way to actually reliably guide users through complex facilities and avoid frustration that leads to abandoning the app. In other words, it is the only thing that works.
So while we would be the first to say that our navigation UX is not perfect, we are confident that it is the most complete, sophistated and intuitive one available today. And we are committed to continually advancing and refining it.
The final, defining pass or fail test of any navigation UX and solution, of course, is does it get you there? A great UX is not enough: it must be reliable, accurate and current. To deliver that requires intense focus on the execution of the other two critical components: navigation-quality indoor positioning and navigation-quality maps and data. Those will be the focus of Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.
Part 2: What is Navigation Quality Indoor Positioning?
Part 3: What are the Requirements for Navigation Quality Maps and Data?