By Pedro Pereira, Field Technologies magazine
GPS is readily used in enterprise mobility today — is indoor mapping next?
GPS, geo-positioning, and mapping applications have become increasingly common in recent years for field service workers. Now, the benefits of knowing where you are at all times and determining the best routes to your destination are being extended into building interiors with indoor mapping.
Unlike GPS, which relies on satellite transmissions, indoor mapping uses Wi-Fi signals because satellite signals typically cannot penetrate buildings. As the technology evolves, finding a person, asset, or room in a building may become as easy as consulting a Wi-Fi-connected handheld device equipped with 2D or 3D graphics to guide you to the right place.
Indoor mapping technology is likely to find a host
of practical uses in large facilities such as warehouses
and factories, hospitals, hotels, shopping malls, sports
arenas, office buildings, and apartment complexes —
in other words, any place where it's easy to get lost.
"Using this technology, with a wireless phone, turn-byturn
guidance can be delivered similar to your in-vehicle
GPS," says Louis Nastro, director of land products at
mobile mapping vendor Applanix, a Trimble company.
The technology's appeal crosses a range of sectors,
from architecture and engineering to first responders to
field service workers. All of them can benefit from having
or creating electronic representations of physical spaces.
For firefighters, police officers, and other emergency
workers, indoor mapping has safety and expediency
implications. For their part, architects could leverage the
technology to build models when redesigning a space to
determine the project's impact on operations.
When it comes to field workers, the potential benefits
are many. "Those who visit multiple complex buildings
can have very detailed maps to facilitate day-to-day activities
requiring navigating complex spaces," says Nastro.
Delivery drivers, couriers, and utility technicians, for
instance, would be able to more quickly find a customer.
"Whether in a large apartment complex or huge office
building, technicians on service calls often spend way too
much time trying to find a customer," says Darren Weiss,
a blog contributor to The SmartVan, a field services
resource organization. "Time and money are lost, frustrations
mount, and service quality drops. Wielding the ability
to pinpoint a customer's exact location within a building
could be a very useful feature." Ankit Agarwal, CEO of
indoor mapping vendor Micello, says handheld-equipped
field service organizations already have started finding
some practical uses for indoor mapping technology.
The Challenges Of Indoor Mapping
While field service organizations have begun employing
indoor mapping applications, the technology remains in
the early stages. Mapping the outdoors and developing
GPS applications was a massive endeavor. Before indoor
mapping use can become as widespread among field
workers as GPS, application developers have to tackle a
number of challenges. They include the scalability and
capacity to map thousands of venues around the world,
setting up the needed infrastructure, and getting buy-in
from owners and — in public facilities — governments.
Other considerations come into play, including building
age and variety, points out John Young, business
lead for federal real property and facility management
at geographic information systems vendor Esri. It's one
thing to map out new buildings, where you can develop
the necessary data during construction. When it comes
to older buildings, mapping has to be done from scratch.
Other challenges have to do with data variety and reliability.
"Each building map is done by a different contractor or with a different software
package with differing types of data
— there is no standardization,"
Young says. "Another constraint
is navigating around the building.
Sometimes you can't even get cell
service indoors, never mind triangulating
the inside of a building."
Such issues have to be tackled
effectively before field service
and emergency workers can
rely on indoor mapping. "Field
service organizations should do
their homework and assess their
data needs enterprisewide and
select a solution with outputs
compatible to what they are currently
using," says Nastro.
Picking An Indoor
Deciding whether an organization
needs indoor mapping for its field
workers and figuring out how to
use it are among the first questions
to tackle. Weiss advises making a
determination of whether the technology
is worth the investment.
"There are some free options and
some paid ones," he says. "In any
scenario, an Internet-connected
device, such as a tablet, smartphone,
or laptop, is necessary. If
your technicians don't already have
Internet-connected devices, this
becomes an investment, even with
a free mapping tool like Google's
More importantly, however,
an organization must decide
whether it even needs the technology,
Weiss says. "If you're a
smaller firm with limited clientele
in familiar locations, odds
are you don't really need to jump
into indoor mapping just yet."
And finally, large organizations
that identify clear benefits from
indoor mapping need to make
some decisions before selecting
a solution. Agarwal recommends
taking speed of delivery and quality
into consideration and finding
out how often the application's
vendor updates the solution and
adds new venues.