App looks to bring smartphone navigation indoors

September 17, 2013 9:01:35 PM PDT
GPS is now in just about every smartphone, but there's one place it still doesn't work well -- indoors. But one company thinks they have found a solution to that.

Janne Haverinen is the CEO of IndoorAtlas. It works just like GPS in the places where GPS doesn't work.

Inside a big, steel building like a shopping mall, a cellphone with GPS pretty much only knows it's somewhere downtown. If you turn on Wi-Fi, it can recognize a few hotspots and tell it's inside the mall. But IndoorAtlas can tell exactly where it is down to about a meter.

The secret is in the phone's built-in compass. It picks up magnetic interference from anything metal in the building. So all Haverinen needs to do is walk around the building one time to record that interference and from then on, the phone will recognize it and know where it is. It can even tell what floor it's on.

The magnetic field is totally different in different floors, even though the floors are visually similar," Haverinen said.

IndoorAtlas will have their first app ready for iPhone and Android users to download in the next couple of weeks. But that's just the beginning. Ultimately, they hope retailers will start building the technology right into their own apps.

Imagine a mall that has its own app instead of those directories by the escalators. Haverinen says he's already working with businesses to make it happen. Though Apple and Google are working on similar technologies, he thinks indoor atlas has the edge because IndoorAtlas doesn't require the business to have Wi-Fi.

"You don't need to install any hardware, so you can use the existing hardware in the building itself, it's the infrastructure," Haverinen said.

Haverinen says the idea actually came from nature.

"Animals are using magnetic fields to navigate long distances," he said.


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