Indoor Positioning vs Indoor Navigation

Jul 21, 2021
10 min read
By: Sofia Spagnuolo

Indoor mapping is a simple concept to grasp, but the various components of the technology can be difficult to fully digest. At Mappedin, we want to ensure you understand the details of indoor mapping in order to utilize our technology in the most enhanced way possible.

What is Indoor Positioning?

An indoor positioning system can locate the coordinates of assets or a user within a building in real-time. A user can pull up their 3D digital map of a venue and a blue dot will appear to signal their current indoor location. Companies can utilize indoor positioning data and analytics to enhance their business. Let’s say you are inside a mall and need to find a specific store. You would pull up your 3D map on your mobile device and be instantly shown your exact indoor location in real-time and the most efficient path to your desired destination.

To better understand this process, think of an outdoor navigation system. Let’s say you are going on a road trip. You get in the car and immediately turn on your navigation system to get directions to your destination. The navigation system identifies your current location to see how far your destination is through Global Positioning System (GPS) signals that leverage satellite constellations. This identifying of your current location is positioning. An indoor positioning system allows individuals to locate themselves within a building and get directions from their exact indoor location. Indoor positioning gets rid of the extra step in wayfinding when selecting a “start” location within a venue, making for an easy and convenient wayfinding experience.

How Does an Indoor Positioning System Work?

When planning a trip indoors, often leveraging a GPS signal is out of the question as indoor buildings limit access to GPS signals. With the absence of a GPS signal, devices must rely on other technologies such as an indoor positioning system to pinpoint the indoor location of a user. Indoor positioning technologies can leverage a user’s indoor position through WiFi access points and signal strength, Bluetooth Low Energy transmitters, Beacons, a user’s on-site mobile device, and more. 

Whether leveraging a cost-effective infrastructure-free system, or a more accurate hardware system, these technologies can enable a user to locate themselves or enable employees to keep track of their assets within a building.

Different Types of Indoor Positioning Systems

Infrastructure-free systems

An infrastructure-free indoor positioning system is a cost-effective solution because it exclusively leverages a user’s on-site device to obtain their indoor position within a venue. WiFi-based systems use radio frequency patterns from WiFi access points to locate a device’s exact location. Proximity-based systems like geofencing, leverage WiFi and cellular signals to track on-site devices. Geofencing helps determine geographic areas and boundaries and relies on physical location information to set up a geofence trigger, where an alert is issued when a device enters the geofenced area. Cisco and Aruba are existing WiFi access point providers that have added geofencing so users on the network running an enabled application can determine indoor positioning locations. 

Another alternative to indoor positioning hardware is Apple’s indoor positioning system which can locate a user’s device within a building by scanning the radio frequency patterns of WiFi access points across indoor environments. This creates a cost-effective and infrastructure-free experience that can save money through low maintenance and setup costs. Mappedin uses the method of “fingerprinting” through Apple’s Indoor Survey app to generate the blue dot experience. The best part about this feature is that it’s directly integrated into our SDK and pre-built applications and, with our Responsive Web App, visitors can get the blue dot experience directly through the browser.

Hardware Systems

Hardware systems require the physical implementation of sensors within a venue to locate WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy for a more accurate indoor positioning experience. These hardware systems enhance WiFi-based location systems but require maintenance and setup costs. When looking to implement hardware systems to enhance accuracy, sensors can be added to locate WiFi, Bluetooth Low Energy, and cellular signals. These sensors are called “beacons” and are strategically placed throughout indoor environments. Beacons are a hardware indoor positioning system that can be placed around a venue to leverage indoor positioning data and ensure a user is able to locate themselves indoors. Beacons leverage Bluetooth Low Energy which offers similar proximity to WiFi access point providers. 

The Benefits of Indoor Positioning

Accurate indoor positioning systems can allow businesses to create enhanced experiences within their venue. Indoor positioning technology can be used for asset tracking in buildings like hospitals and warehouses to locate the exact positioning of personnel, assets, and vehicle movements in real-time. This allows employees to keep stock of their appliances and create a visual of where items are placed or where employees are located to increase efficiency within a company.

Indoor positioning can also allow for contact tracing, which can be essential to slow the spread of infections. Temporal and spatial analysis can showcase the time and duration of contact to make for a safer work environment. By enabling indoor positioning, a building can utilize these applications and make for a connected network of devices to monitor a venue and look for areas of improvement.

What is Indoor Navigation?

Indoor navigation systems provide a user with spatial context of a venue and directions that are accurate and easy to follow. This can include 2D printed maps or large “you are here” signage but often in today’s world, indoor navigation systems take the form of a digital and interactive display. Indoor navigation systems can be used across mobile, tablet, web, or directory devices. A user can select any point of interest, search for their desired location, or select a location from category listings on their 3D digital map and receive turn-by-turn directions to their desired destination.

In a mall, for example, a shopper can select a store they wish to go to and navigation systems will give the shopper accurate directions from their indoor location along with other important information about the store (e.g. event details, on-sale promotions, hours of operation, and more). A shopper can begin their journey and view instructions from their device such as “make a left in 200 meters” to be directed to their desired destination. An indoor navigation system can allow a user to make multiple stops and calculate the most efficient route to hit all of the desired points of interest along with accounting for different floor levels with multi-floor wayfinding. 

Indoor Maps and Navigation 

Indoor navigation systems cannot be used without indoor maps. Indoor maps help create an enhanced and visual wayfinding experience. At Mappedin, we create digital 3D maps from our customer’s PDF or CAD files of their venue. Our CMS platform utilizes polygons to accurately represent each room or area within the map. Mappedin’s CMS platform offers many tools to make 3D maps convenient to use such as Smart Labels. Smart labels limit confusion from a user by enabling visual labels to be seen while zooming, panning, and rotating the map. Venues can choose to highlight amenities such as washrooms on the map with icons, helping to ensure a user can quickly find key points of interest After we design 3D maps of indoor environments, we utilize location-based data to populate the fastest and most efficient routes between various locations on the map.

How Does an Indoor Navigation System Work?

An effective indoor navigation system relies on a realistic digital map to operate seamlessly. Pathing is implemented into 3D digital maps to populate the most efficient routes. After implementing pathing and creating an indoor navigation system, a user can define start and end points of interest and begin single/multi-floor navigation with turn-by-turn directions from any predefined location on the map. 

A user can take advantage of an indoor navigation system from their mobile device and access our web-based maps online for an easy-to-use navigation experience. Alternatively, venues may implement large, touchscreen kiosks along main entrances. These displays can quickly capture the attention of people entering the building who might need assistance finding their destination.

Benefits of Indoor Navigation

Indoor navigation can help companies take their venue to the next level. Large venues with many amenities like campuses, hospitals, stadiumsamusement parks, and malls can be complicated to navigate through. Indoor navigation makes finding places easier with accurate and real-time directions. Students can save time when planning their trip to class, visitors of a hospital can find the room of a patient they are visiting, fans can find their seat in a stadium, shoppers can get in and out of the mall with limited time wasted when looking for a specific item, and more. 

Additional technology can be integrated with indoor navigation systems to create enhanced experiences that go beyond turn-by-turn directions. For example, shopping lists can be implemented into indoor navigation systems to allow grocery shoppers to keep track of the items they need while finding the fastest and most productive route around the grocery store.

What is the Difference Between Indoor Positioning and Indoor Navigation?

Indoor positioning and indoor navigation are two different technologies that work together to create a seamless wayfinding experience for users. Indoor positioning systems can pinpoint a user’s location and indoor navigation will give them turn-by-turn directions to their desired destination. 

When an individual is in a stadium and searching for their seat, they can input their seat information into the 3D map and see that seat 35B is 200 meters away from their current indoor location and it will take approximately 2 minutes to get there when following the fastest route provided. As a user begins to walk, the indoor navigation system will give them directions accordingly and tell them the exact moment to make a turn. When utilizing both an indoor positioning system and an indoor navigation system, users can easily navigate their way through indoor buildings.

Without indoor navigation systems, an indoor positioning system can locate a person inside buildings, but not provide them with any direction and on the flip side, without indoor positioning systems, users of indoor maps have to select start and end coordinates on the map. An indoor navigation system and an indoor positioning system work together to create an enhanced wayfinding experience. 

One example of this is follow-mode which uses both indoor positioning and indoor navigation. Follow mode leverages a user’s position throughout their journey as they follow directions provided by the indoor navigation system. A blue dot will signal a user’s current indoor location and the dot will follow them as they navigate their way through an indoor venue. This provides further context to users and ensures they are aware if they make a wrong turn, preventing a user from getting lost and allowing them to digitally visualize their journey through the building.

Our world is moving from “you are here” signs and stopping people passing through a building to ask them for directions. With mapping technology like indoor positioning and indoor navigation, users can navigate their way indoors seamlessly and efficiently.