While the commercial GPS has been around for over 30 years, it only received a consumer momentum after the ubiquitous availability of outdoor digital maps and services. The indoor mapping and navigation market is treading on the same route.By Supreeth Sudhakaran,
Barely two years ago Apple, one of the biggest players in navigation industry, faced its most embarrassing moment with the launch of iOS map app. Since then, Apple has often declined to discuss the progress on its mapping initiative.
However, the tech giant has of late been showing an increasing interest in the indoor mapping market. Last year, it acquired indoor mapping specialist WifiSlam for around $20 million; followed by the purchase of motion tracking company PrimeSense 3D for a reported $360 million. It also hired Philip Stange, CEO and co-founder of an indoor mapping start-up Wifarer. Add to it, the increased support for iBeacons in iOS 7 and its latest patent that uses a combination of WiFi access points, location databases and other data to determine the proximity to (what Apple refers to as) presence areas.
This brings us to the question: What are the critical reasons for Apple’s new-found love for the indoor mapping market?
A crowded market
Market research company, ABI Research, estimates the indoor mapping technology market will be worth $4 billion by 2018.
Another research conducted by a market analysis firm Opus Research, predicts the market for indoor location and placebased marketing and advertising to surpass $10 billion by 2018. As Apple searches its redemption in iBeacons, its competitors are vying to evolve suitable alternatives. Stripping down and streamlining its operations, Nokia’s HERE maps has, over period of time, covered good ground. Joseph Leigh, Head of Venue Maps, HERE Deutschland claims that HERE has established close partnerships with venue owners and has mapped over 90,000 buildings in as many as 71 countries. (In June 2013, the count was around 45,000 buildings in 45 countries.)
On the other end, Google is trying to change the rules of the game with its Project Tango. Experts believe that Google’s indoor mapping business will get a greater impetus with the 3D mapping capabilities of Project Tango. Recently, through a partnership with Google’s Project Tango, location services platform creator, aisle411, announced that it is prepping to launch an in-store solution that would enhance the shopping experience through fully interactive 3D maps.
One of aisle411’s retail partners, Walgreens, recently agreed to test this in-store service. aisle411 claims that throughout the shopping experience, shoppers can be introduced to personalised coupons and other promotional offers, as well as rewards that can be accrued just by browsing in store aisles. Most of these offers would be custom-built based on data and insights gained by closely studying in-store consumer behaviour.
It’s not only biggies like HERE, Apple and Google who are fighting for a bigger share of this market, which has also seen a royal rumble of around 200 small and medium companies jostling for space. With signal attenuation in indoor environments restricting the optimum utilisation of GPS signals, several of these smaller companies have proposed working on newer methods of geo-location. Assisted GPS, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), MEMS sensors, LED, WiFi, or a combination of one or several of these technologies are leading to the creation of new models which are being scrutinised and explored extensively.
For instance, ByteLight has invested its energies in developing a model that is based on a hybrid BLE and Visible Light Communication (VLC) approach. The initial idea was only based on the LED visible light communication. Later, in May 2014, the company also embedded the BLE technology to improve the accuracy. “It uses existing infrastructure rather than requiring investment in beacons, while reducing costs associated with replacing beacons bi-annually. The two mediums complement each other very well,” reveals Dan Ryan, CEO and co-founder, ByteLight.
“A shopper can have their phone in their pocket and get an alert of a nearby offer in-aisle via BLE, and when they take out their phone get a specific message for the exact product they’re in front of via VLC. BLE would know you’re in the gaming aisle at BestBuy, but VLC would know you’re in front of the PS4,” he explains. The company expects that around 60 million BLE beacons will be shipped by 2019. The numbers can put in perspective when one looks at the fact that 1.28 billion LED lighting fixtures are expected to be shipped annually by 2021. The market is at only 7% adoption today, but it is expected to grow to 70% by 2020, claims Ryan.
Pole Star is another company delivering commercial indoor positioning solutions since 2008. Its Fusion Engine takes advantage of all available sensor technologies including GPS for outdoor/indoor transitions, the MEMS sensors, WiFi and BLE devices for determining the location. “This technology can allow for 1-2 metre accuracy,” says Christian Carle, CEO and Co-founder of Pole Star.
Additionally, because Pole Star uses sensors in its devices, its positioning symbol on the map will point in the direction the user needs to proceed on, making the interface very easy to understand and use. In fact, the company claims that its product, NAO Micro, not only allows for even more precise positioning, it also allows for communications/messaging to the user when they walk by specific areas equipped with BLE devices.
Indoor mapping company, IndoorAtlas opted to take a detour from the usual practice and developed its indoor mapping model based on magnetic anomalies. “IndoorAtlas’ technology will provide 3-6 feet accuracy at 90% confidence level. This is achieved with the use of the compass sensors which currently are un-optimised,” claims IndoorAtlas, Founder and CEO, Janne Haverinen.
But it is just not the technology creators who have been actively targeting this market. Indoor mapping specialist Micello claims that every pixel on its geo-coded map corresponds to a real world latitude/longitude, and makes the positioning service provider’s job easier. Anil Agarwal, Co-founder, VP Business & Operations at Micello, says, “We ingest multiple forms of unstructured data in different formats such as CAD drawings, PDFs, pictures taken from mobile phones, and deliver a structured vector-based map that can be easily embedded in a mobile application or a website.”
Together we map
Working in silos although has ushered in new technologies to map and navigate, but many experts believe that the real answer would emerge only once the industry players collaborate. This is why Esri and 20 other leading companies have joined together to form Global In-Location Alliance to drive innovation and market adoption of high-accuracy indoor positioning and related services.
A similar noteworthy initiative is i-locate European project. i-locate is funded by the European Commission under its Information and Communication Technologies Policy Support Programme and involves over 25 partnering organisations. The first output of i-locate aims to deliver a ready-to-be-deployed open source ‘toolkit’ that will facilitate market entry of new companies and development of innovative businesses based on interoperable services for indoor and outdoor location, routing and asset management that use open geographical information for both indoor and outdoor spaces. In addition, i-locate aims to develop a public web-portal, the so-called ‘virtual hub’ for sharing of and interoperable access to indoor geographic information as open data. The project aims to develop mobile applications addressing the requirements of the project’s pilot sites — eHealth, public and private services, cultural heritage.
“i-locate is aimed at enabling a number of indoor/outdoor new localisation-based businesses by performing pilots of new technologies at private and public locations across Europe,” says Catherine Delevoye, who is associated with the project. Small and large pilot partners are being involved in more than 10 live market scenarios. In total, more than 5,000 citizens and professionals are being targeted and surveyed.
It doesn’t matter whether Open Source or proprietary solutions are the final inventors of the ‘perfect solution’. What is more important is that several industries have already started adopting and planning pilot projects using the available indoor mapping technologies. And this is changing the dynamics of how these industries functioned and connected with their customers.
Retail, the biggest gainer
According to a report published by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), people spend about 90% of their time indoors.
Among all the industries that have benefited and leveraged this technology, retail remains on the top. It is estimated that on an average day, most people interact (consciously or sub-consciously) with around 500 brands. It is anyone’s imagination how this number would surge when we are in a retail store. “Indoor mapping is becoming an analytical revolution,” says Simon Thompson, the director of commercial industry at Esri. “Mapping buildings connects macro geographies — where people live and work — to micro geographies — the environment found inside of built environments, including stores.” Successful shop owners are scavenging for more information detailing how people shop in their stores, provide them offers that matter to them, and analyse this data to strategise the next move with clear vision.
For instance, Australia’s Westfield Group operates one of the world’s largest shopping centre portfolios with investment interests in 103 shopping centres across Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Brazil, encompassing around 23,000 retail outlets and total assets under management in excess of $58.66 billion.
In November 2013, Westfield partnered with Micello to announce the release of its new digital innovation: Searchable Mall. Working with Australia’s leading retailers, Searchable Mall was used as a stepping stone by Westfield to transform from an e-commerce site to an online destination which helps shoppers find what they want in their local Westfield shopping centre and helps them buy their way — either in-store or online. The idea clicked with customers and in fact helped Westfield to get closer to the shopper’s mind.
Although, Westfield is yet to share the final statistics, there are other studies that vouch that indoor location and navigation technology boosts in-store sales. Case in point, a consumer behaviour study conducted by Deloitte Consulting found that “digital across all platforms — desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones — is influencing 36% of the over $3 trillion being spent across all categories of instore retail sales in US.” Smartphone devices alone influence $593 billion, or 19% of all instore retail sales. The rate of smartphone influence has increased significantly since 2012, when it represented just 5% or $159 billion of in-store sales, the study found.
The others in line
For an area like public safety, where detecting the distressed in time is neccesary, indoor positioning technologies can be truly a lifesaver. Using rugged devices — even when there is no cellular or WiFi service — helps to guide fire-fighters and police officers in hazardous situations and can be the difference between life and death. In the context of i-locate, one safety-related application implemented includes leveraging on low- cost camera-based indoor location of vehicles within road tunnels which are currently not fitted with any safety technology.
“Another need expressed was aimed at locating operators within technical rooms where installed high-pressure gas gauges make access control and monitoring highly critical for workers’ safety. Within these contexts, indoor location technologies are used to detect any abnormal presence of a person in a critical area, indicating a need for assistance or rescue,” says Delevoye.
For this specific reason, the oil, gas and mining sectors are considered among the most promising verticals for indoor localisation technologies. Incidentally, the i-locate project has received several expressions of interests from nuclear plants, chemicals industry, biotech laboratories and a number of other sensitive industrial fields too.
Universities and public campuses are also turning to indoor mapping and analysis as funding diminishes and organisations strive to make the best of their taxed resources. Mapping information can help increase energy and staff efficiency, assign space smartly, and keep track of assets and people. Such a pilot is currently being implemented at the University of Applied Sciences in Dresden, Germany. This guidance-related scenario is highly relevant in business parks and exhibition halls. For instance, Technoport, a science park located in Luxembourg, which is planning to use indoor location for routing visitors and attendants to specific entrepreneurs, facilities, spaces, presentations and events inside its business incubation facilities.
Hospitals and health facilities are also tracking the movement of patients and equipment to ensure safety and cost savings. Geofencing using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags can provide notifications of where equipment, staff and patients are located or when they leave or enter certain areas. Pilot projects are currently being developed for public hospitals in Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Greece and Romania.
Similar challenges are currently being experienced in the smaller but very fast-growing market of assisted-living services. The relevance of indoor-location based technologies in such a context is the scope of a dedicated pilot at elder nursing homes in Romania. Control of their environment and their daily agenda is considered a key enhancer for both care service providers and assisted people in terms of quality of life and well-being.
The way ahead
As frontiers between technologies become increasingly thin, future products tend to be a mix of different innovation breakthroughs. Indoor location offers tremendous opportunities for such combinations. “Synergies are especially high between geo-location, augmented reality, natural user interfaces, gaming and man-machine interaction. 3D mapping in particular is poised to offer strong growth,” says Delevoye.
In the first innings of indoor location, however, beacons have maintained an edge over others. The current evolution of the market which can be termed as ‘in-location 1.0’ is about understanding the possibilities. The real change would usher in only once the issues of micro-location, privacy and lack of standards is pinned down. And as the indoor location technology creators sharpen their tools, the analytic software providers are focusing on further elevating the value of the Big Data that will be generated; just as they did with the eCommerce industry. The action is soon expected to shift from in-store to backend, where conversion rates and click-throughs on mobile offers will be the first direct measure of RoIs.
As Ryan sums it up, “the real value for retailers and other end users will be found in Location 2.0. Eventually, it will evolve to micro-targeting and winning the last three feet.”