Before delving into an indoor positioning system, it is worth mentioning that GPS technology uses satellite signals to identify a location of a person or object outdoors. While GPS technology does its best in outdoor environments, IPS (indoor positioning system) is aimed at pinpointing an accurate location of people and assets indoors with the help of connected devices, tracking tags, and software. In this article, we are going to shed light on IPS benefits and main features, technology types, and use cases across industries.
What is an indoor positioning system and how does it work?
IPS, in other words an indoor positioning system, is a technology that enables tracking people and assets within a network of devices that communicate with internal sensors that are installed across interior space. What does it look like? The incoming data is moved to the back-end software/application layer via internal sensors to calculate the object’s indoor location through mathematical algorithms. To make this process viable, software engineers use different IoT technology stacks depending on the goal and application requirement:
- UWB (ultra-wideband)
We named only the main IPS technologies but there are also additional technologies available as well.
Indoor positioning systems are gaining traction across a variety of industries where location-based services are indispensable. The value they can bring refers not only to building owners and businesses but also to users who can get more simplified and streamlined experiences. Yes, in any case, businesses get a competitive edge.
In a nutshell, with indoor location tracking apps, users can view the space on the app’s map with the possibility to use it in real-time and find specific destinations. And business owners can gain new revenue streams and improve the overall building management. For example, by providing customers with IPS opportunities, businesses can help them save time getting to a particular store in the shopping mall. As a business result, your customers got a positive experience, you increased the chance to double your customer base.
Let’s see a specific use case: a shopping mall in Great Britain is a good example where IPSs are proved to be essential for efficient customer tracking. Euristiq helped the world’s largest health and beauty retail group with over 15,000 stores across the globe develop a low-cost in-store customer tracking system to get more visibility of customers’ behaviors and movements, their returning, popular zones, and resource allocation. As a result, a client got an indoor tracking system that improves customer experience, optimizes employees’ routines, and points businesses where to place products thanks to comprehensive data obtained via smart sensors and devices.
Now let’s stop and outline the main benefits for your business and which technology you need to implement. And then we will cover the main industries which apply IPS technology to optimize their internal logistic processes and staff management and, finally, how all these can help reduce and optimize your expenditures.
What are the main types of indoor positioning technology?
There are different locating methods available depending on the frequency and accuracy of positioning required. Each of them has its own pros and cons. Therefore, we cannot offer a one-size-fits-all solution unless without analyzing your business requirements and needs.
For example, if you’re looking for a cheap solution – an RFID system is an option but not in cases where moving positions need to be determined. Your asset can be tracked with high accuracy using UWB technology but it’s by far the most expensive solution. So let’s get into details and make a comparison of the main technologies.
Types of indoor location tracking technology
Based on the fingerprinting method, the Wi-Fi’s main operating principle is RSS (received signal strength) which depends on the distance between sender and receiver. Although Wi-Fi indoor positioning systems provide a high level of accuracy and great coverage, this technology needs at least three access points to receive each tag transmission. Moreover, the accuracy depends on the obstacles and moving objects. The resolution for this problem is a map of RSS specific for a given area. In addition, power consumption is considerable.
Nevertheless, one important benefit of Wi-Fi technology is its possibility to use pre-existing networks infrastructures which minimizes the need for further installations, and, in turn, additional expenditures.
BLE uses almost the same principle as Wi-Fi. Nowadays, using Bluetooth low-energy beacons is the most widespread indoor positioning technology. The main advantages of BLE are long-life battery transmission and cost-effective installation. Among downsides, low coverage is the most concerning one, however, BLE needs low-power consumption.
Through beacons that are reference point-based systems, radio signals are transmitted to the device in an optimal position accuracy at 1 meter.
UWB is a wireless protocol for communications that operates via radio waves. High accuracy and low latency make UWB technology stand out from other ones. Also, the ability to penetrate glass, concrete, and wood materials, makes this technology the most appropriate for indoor environments for multiple industries. Moreover, the more accurate location-based data a building owner can obtain, the greater insights this data can provide to achieve new levels of efficiency.
The main drawback of UWB is that it requires ad-hoc installations since it is not available in buildings or on smartphones. However, with that said, we can predict the rise of Apple Airtags which have already become a hit for IoT adoption by the consumer asset tracking industry. But how do you think, will UWB-based AirTags impact the IoT adoption by businesses across industries?
So let’s return to UWB functionality, in particular, a pinpoint precision it can deliver to business owners. Do they really need it? Exactly this question you need to ask before implementing this type of technology since, maybe, the precise location of an asset or a person is not what you are looking for? For instance, if you need indoor positioning solutions for your hospital, a UWB-based system, presumably, is not the right option; instead, proximity-based solutions will be better and cheaper. But for manufacturing asset tracking that requires precise inventory management – UWB can bring enormous benefits.
Radio frequency identification uses electromagnetic fields to transmit the identity (ID) and to track tags attached to people or objects. Due to its highly limited range, RFID tracking allows for only spot localization. Therefore, it is not possible to track assets continuously since RFID technology enables assets to be identified at a certain moment and a certain location. Because of this characterictics, they are often combined with other technologies to bring more value.
The main benefits are cost-effectiveness thanks to inexpensive hardware and ease of maintenance.
RFID can be passive, active, and semi-passive.
- Passive RFID uses the simplest principle thanks to which tags can store only a few kb of memory, and in order to get information, the reader has to be located within 1 meter of the tag.
- Active RFIDs provide a larger range (100m) and can store more data. However, the costs are much higher.
- Semi-passive RFIDs can provide an extended range owing to a battery that powers the tag, but the overall functionality is similar to passive RFID.
Why do businesses invest in the IPS systems?
According to a research report by MarketsandMarkets, the global indoor location market is expected to increase to almost $41 billion by 2022.
Data obtained from IoT-based systems help streamline business processes and drive tangible results. Behind the global trend for deploying IPSs are a number of drivers, the most important among which are:
- customers attraction and sales boost from proximity marketing
- increasing revenues
- usability of venues
- customer loyalty
Further on we’ll describe what are the main reasons why businesses tend to invest in indoor positioning systems and how they impact their business growth and performance rate.
The main benefits of IPS are:
- Insightful analytics. With real-time data provided by smart devices, tags, apps, and IoT systems, venues get huge opportunities to optimize their sales process and retrieve comprehensive insights on how to enhance user experiences. For instance, if you know where your customers spend more time in your retail outlet, you are able to optimize a store design or place products in such a way to create a more effective flow of customers. With insightful analytics, you can increase sales, decrease wait times, and enhance customer loyalty.
- Location-based marketing. With indoor space management systems, your customers can get personalized experiences. For example, a customer moving through your mall gets a special offer. Investing in this type of marketing campaign is a lucrative solution. Moreover, directing your customers in the right direction is also a good idea if you want to simplify their navigation to the right destination and make them satisfied.
- Location safety. Taking care of safety alerts and notifications in your facility in the case of a fire, for example, whether it’s a shopping mall or a hospital will be a good step. Indoor positioning systems allow identifying people and via smartphones, they can get notifications on how to find an exit when a problem occurs.
Use cases for indoor location tracking
Nowadays smart office solutions have gained momentum due to the need for facility managers to optimize HVAC expenditures and improve occupants’ conditions and conveniences. Let’s see how indoor positioning systems can impact cost savings and process flow optimization.
- Indoor positioning systems in office buildings help monitor environmental conditions (climate and lighting) by using condition sensors that transmit data in real-time to the software. Applying such systems helps not only ensure comfortable environmental conditions for office employees but also saves up energy consumption. For instance, by installing IoT-powered temperature sensors and presence detectors, the temperature in the office can be adjusted automatically, so if there are no people in the room the heating and lighting systems will be turned off automatically.
- Building management systems, namely indoor positioning systems, provide buildings with additional layers of data needed to efficiently manage facilities. For example, smart lighting solutions can be incorporated in the offices to determine which areas are more occupied. If an employee is looking for a free room to set up a meeting it can be easily identified with such systems.
- Wireless IoT sensors play an important role in ensuring healthy and comfortable space for employees by monitoring air quality, humidity, and lighting. Indoor positioning sensors are able to retrieve data on occupants’ preferences and utilize these analytics to improve occupants’ experiences.
- With BLE beacons, employees can enter the building with their smartphones which increase safety measures and comfort.
We noticed that under-utilization of offices is a significant problem that companies want to solve. Our company had an opportunity to resolve this problem for one Canadian company Tektelic which aimed to create intelligent workplace utilization. Overbooking was the main issue leading to inefficient utilization of space. Euristiq developed a smart office application allowing to collect data through the uplink payloads sent by room sensors and use this data to track the occupancy. Now with user-friendly IoT dashboard employees and office managers can record performance, and see real-time analytics which can help them efficiently manage their workload and ensure efficient room capacity.
Shopping malls and large stores
Indoor navigation has to be an essential part of your retail business if you want to ensure better coordination of internal processes and provide your customers with better experiences. Let’s formulate the main benefits your business can gain from indoor positioning systems:
- Mall owners get a new level of capabilities to deliver a unique and personalized shopping experience on all touch-points.
- Your customers can easily find the product they are looking for. This increases customers’ satisfaction, preventing painful attempts to find the desired destination and this, in turn, leads to customers’ retention.
- With IoT sensors and smart devices, store owners get comprehensible tools to collect useful marketing data to transform it into insightful analytics which they can further use to deliver unique and personalized marketing campaigns.
- With insights about your customers’ behavior, you are able to better understand traffic flow in the store and efficiently allocate resources. For example, this IoT system with in-store foot traffic analytics for retail helps not only form heat maps to determine the most popular zones in the store but also controls energy consumption.
Without value-driven data about in-store customer shopping behavior and efficient resource allocation, mall owners miss the opportunity to make smart data-based decisions. It is of high importance to track how customers are walking through the store, what sections are the most popular, etc.
Regarding IPS implementation in the healthcare sector, the first, that comes into mind is the navigation of patients and healthcare workers and asset tracking in the building. Yes, it is one of the main possibilities hospitals can get once installing indoor location systems. But there are much more applications available in healthcare that go far beyond.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare reality has changed. Now the pandemic has triggered healthcare institutions to review their approaches toward treatment. Lack of hospital beds, inefficient allocation of assets and equipment, the high workload of medical personnel, etc. – all this has resulted in the necessity of healthcare systems to re-evaluate their existing strategies. The advent of IoT in healthcare has enabled doctors and clinicians to monitor their patients efficiently and accurately in real-time.
The global IoT in the healthcare market is estimated to reach a valuation of US$ 469.4 bn by 2027, the end year of the forecast period.
Let’s examine different use cases of IPS deployment:
- IPS can help patients easily get to their treatment rooms or prevent delayed times for treatment. In addition, medical staff is relieved from overload.
- With indoor positioning applications, clinicians and doctors benefit from fast navigation in the facility by viewing optimal routes in their smartphones and, thus, optimizing their work schedules.
- In case of emergencies, IoT-powered systems help facilitate asset and equipment tracking which ensures immediate access to required medicine or equipment. For example, BLE trackers attached for medical equipment help optimize access to it and coordination by viewing it in real-time in the app. Moreover, thefts will be minimized.
Multi-storey car parks
Today parking a car is a critical issue not only for businesses but for everyday drivers. This problem has challenged the development of intelligent transportation and car parking systems.
To take your business to a new level, it is worth considering smart car parking management systems that ensure convenient navigation inside multi-level parking slots and optimal routes for a free space. Also, you as a business owner might want to offer a sustainable parking solution that would enhance the utilization efficiency and comfort of your workers.
Indoor positioning technology uses devices and sensors to track the occupancy of parking lots by sending data to cloud getaway and once it is analyzed it moves to the network server. As a result, a driver gets a notification in the app on his smartphone about the nearest free lot.
How do indoor positioning systems facilitate the successful management of daily mobility proactively? The main benefits are:
- With updated real-time information on the availability of a free parking place, a driver can easily and quickly find it, reducing time for searching.
- With indoor-location apps, car owners can book a parking place in advance and pay for it.
- Smart car parking systems allow you to find a car in no time with accurate navigation.
How to determine which technology is suitable to your own IPS?
Before selecting the right technology for an IPS, there are three things we recommend to consider:
- Accuracy. To define which level of accuracy your IPS needs, think over the necessity of accurate positioning. If it is not critical in your case, it will be enough to use technology with room-level accuracy (RFID, infrared RTLS). But If you need more granular data, then precise accuracy is your number one concern (Wi-Fi, UWB). But there a new question arises: how to determine the precision level? From our experience, we can say that in most cases, large-scale spaces such as warehouses containing multiple items and assets, need precise accuracy. And, for example, for hospitals or airports where precision does not play a critical role, it is not reasonable to invest in accurate solutions like Wi-Fi, or ultra-wideband, since they are much more expensive.
- Power consumption. Wi-Fi-based tags and infrared tags are power-hungry, while RFID tags and BLE do not consume a lot of energy but can be high of charge. Moreover, RFID tags are very cheap. But you need to weigh the cons as well: their readers are very expensive.
- The coverage area. With Wi-Fi and UWB, you can cover a wide-range area (40-100m), however, if you need a network of tags and anchors, these solutions are not so feasible due to the increased need for additional configuration and maintenance which is likely to affect your expenditures. BLE, for example, offers a significantly shorter range of 5-10m, but this technology is suitable for proximity marketing.
Are you ready for advancements?
If you want to significantly 1) enhance your customers’ experiences, 2) ensure efficient tracking of your assets, 3) obtain invaluable analytical data, 4) improve your marketing opportunities, 5) and streamline your business internal processes, indoor positioning systems are a great solution to invest in. There are different technologies, the selection of which depends on the needs of your business and your budget. If you still have any questions contact us – we will help you weigh all pros and cons of each technology.