Indoor navigation: Lost in the shopping mall


More and more people are traveling every year, while less and less of them are using conventional paper maps.

Just 10 years ago, before arriving to a foreign city it was necessary to look up the address of a tourist information office to get a city map there. Today, in contrast, we can easily find a place with the most delicious pizza in any city without making barely any contact with the locals.

Gradually, global navigation satellite systems became an integral part of our lives, both personal and social. Your smartphone will kindly tag your geographical position just under that party picture, Facebook can tell you who of your friends are nearby at the moment, and your navigator will plan the most convenient transportation connection from here to, let’s say, Barcelona for you.

A GPS has become our 3-in-1 advisor, assistant and comrade.

But, (disaster!) global navigation satellite systems leave us face to face with orientation in space indoors, as our GPS basically doesn’t function inside buildings and structures.


Why doesn’t GPS work inside buildings?

Navigation experts explain, that the difference between functioning of GPS and mobile connection lies in the way technology is dealing with the wave. Positioning and communication technologies are based on two different properties of the wave. When speaking of mobile connection, what really matters is content and continuity of a signal, so it can be retransmitted several times in order to keep it strong enough.

On the contrary, accurate navigation requires precise value of distance traveled by signal from the satellite until it has reached the receiver. Thus, if we try to retransmit GPS signal, then the part needed for identification of our geographical position would be lost.


Indoor positioning system: why do we need one?

Companies and enterprises can use indoor positioning systems (or IPS) for a range of purposes, including production organization and security reasons.

Tracking of production units, workplace management, services for visitors and applications for employees − these and other possible uses automate and simplify functioning of a company. Depending on one’s needs, indoor positioning systems can be used to identify location of a person, moveable objects or number of people/objects present within predefined area.

Systems of indoor positioning can solve quite a lot of problems in public spaces as well. Quick and easy navigation inside complex structures and buildings, such as airports, municipal transportation systems, university campuses − facilitating navigation in these places is a very logical continuation of IT penetration and technification of our daily lives.

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Many touristic location and museums of the world already have available option of audio guided tours. During such an individual tour one can take a walk inside Bundestag, for instance, while the audio guide will track location and tell about special things around the visitor at the current moment, or will encourage them to look out of the window to see some landmarks of Berlin visible from that particular point of view.

On the level of state government indoor positioning systems are already seen as a key technology for emergency response systems improvement in the future.


Technologies used for indoor geolocation

The problem is explicitly defined: it is necessary to determine current position of a particular object inside a building.

Additionally, it is quite desirable to know velocity of the object, its orientation in space and altitude.

Nonetheless, there is still no universal and completely satisfactory solution. Startups around the world are trying to develop the best possible approach for resolving this question.

For instance, Apple uses Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) wireless technology for their indoor location applications development. Mubaloo, software development company from UK, uses combination of  BLE and WiFi for their indoor localization needs. Some other companies invest into research of possible use of radio signals for indoor positioning, as ultra wide band can penetrate through walls. These are not all the options of technical solutions that could enable indoor navigation, though for all of them limiting factor is price of implementation and precision. For today, WiFi localization approach has the fastest popularity growth among all others. According to the words of Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts Kaveh Pahlavan, progress is not always reflecting current technical abilities of a given branch of science. Oftentimes, business is influencing acknowledgment or ignorance of certain technical advances and discoveries. He says, that technologies that become important are chosen by industry, and today WiFi localization is the most popular technology in the field.


Currently, there is no unified and common standard for identification of indoor position. Sometimes producing companies use a combination  of signals received from different smartphone sensors (GPS, WiFi, cellular network towers and others) instead of using just one sensor.

Apart from absence of standards in the area of indoor positioning systems, there are two more issues that are slowing down their development: precision of object location identification and emerging need to map indoor spaces. Different companies are giving very different answers to these questions, and for this reason today it is possible to find platforms for indoor navigation that range widely as in their technical implementation, as well as in concept itself.

It is worth mentioning that some software development companies are solving the challenge of accurate location identification  by using augmented reality tools, so that a user can easily identify their location by distinguishing surrounding objects augmented in the building plan. Such a creative approach is making navigation process  for the user easier, and at the same time takes some technical challenges off  the shoulders of software developers. This kind of tentative precision can be challenging to accept for our colleagues from the field of geodesy: while they are used to work with precision value within millimeters, these indoor navigation platforms are only as precise, as identifying person’s presence inside one room or another.

Similar to precision issue, indoor mapping question has several possible answers. It is not surprising that Google and Apple are investing a lot of resources in development of indoor positioning systems, as well as in advancing database of objects that have indoor navigation inside them. Nevertheless, none of the mentioned companies has fully functioning product that a traveler can rely on during, for example, a fast flight change in a huge international airport. Some commercial structures are developing indoor navigation applications at their own cost, and are using them for their own purposes. Leading museums and universities are developing navigation systems for improvement of visitor experience, and those are open for everyone.


Below, we outline several bright examples of indoor positioning systems. Hopefully, you will like and even use some of these.

Even better, these examples may inspire you for development of your own app.


Examples: platforms and applications

Vienna University of Business and Economics


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Application for navigation around campus of Vienna University of Business and Economics is a combination of global positioning and indoor positioning systems. The app allows to calculate best possible route to a destination defined as name of a building, code of classroom, POI category, and also has an option of planning a barrier-free route for people with special needs.

This application also allows to select and print fragment of the campus plan, to switch representation mode from 2D to 3D and even to find out at which department or library building the book one is looking for is located  − and all these features are available through search field.



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Meridian is simultaneously a platform for indoor positioning systems development, and a database of locations with indoor navigation available. Using mobile applications for navigation from Meridian library, one can feel local in Lan Su Chinese Gardens, or to have a guided tour in New York underground, where an open art gallery featuring art works of various artists is located.

One of the most well-known application developed on Meridian platform is AMHN Explorer for American Museum of Natural History. Apart from helping to navigate in the space of museum and having explicit information about museum items, this application also records personal history of museum discovery of the visitor.


Here, Venue Maps


Here Maps have made something very simple and useful − they have united indoor and outdoor space.

In this map application one can zoom in to a building, and if its inner space is mapped, then one can just switch from outdoor to indoor navigation mode. Here Maps company tries to think globally, so currently there are more than 50 000 locations in 45 countries worldwide available for indoor navigation.

For example, in case you are in Kharkiv, Ukraine for the first time , and you have no clue which part of “Caravan” shopping center has a cutlery shop − now you know that Here Maps offer indoor positioning solution even for this case.



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Possibly, Mally is the best solution for navigation in huge shopping malls. This application has option of 3D view, as well as 360° view and possibility to include shops, places and events in the route planning.

The only problem is that Mally has a very limited coverage, and most of the shopping malls that have this navigation option are located in Spain and UK.

If Mally will expand its coverage to all huge shopping centers, they have all the chances to transform process of shopping into something much more pleasant.


As we see, there are already a lot of inventions, breakthroughs and applications in the area of indoor positioning systems. Some parameters and features have still to be improved by the engineers, but there are already life-changing products to be used, as well as platforms that facilitate creating own indoor navigation applications.

Indeed, the time of guided navigation inside manmade structures is here.
If you have any experience of using indoor positioning systems, we would encourage you to share it in the comment section.