If you keep your finger on the pulse of the IT industry, you will be aware that the most upbeat trends are mobile indoor navigation technologies and the massive amounts of data those technologies help collect and manage. With the help of new wireless technologies, businesses can track the movement of goods and customers and plan accordingly, i.e. act in a more predictive way.
The implementation of wireless technologies inside brick-and-mortar stores creates value for customers too as it helps them orient themselves, make choices, and pay in the most convenient way.
The following three steps will help you become aware of the obstacles that await you when you deploy your wireless indoor navigation system and show you how to avoid, or at least minimize, their impact.
Step 1: Make sure you use the relevant technology. There are several suitable solutions. However, the newest and most balanced technology (at least as of November 2015) for indoor navigation and communication is BLE (Bluetooth low energy) beacons and this is why:
* Google intends to make communication possible even without an app with the introduction of their BLE beacons protocol Eddystone
Cheap, tunable, energy-efficient – these are the main benefits of BLE beacons technology.
BLE beacons do not require special equipment (unlike RFID), any special actions from users (as with QR codes) or a lot of energy (while Wi-Fi does). They also have an advantage over other technologies in both indoor positioning and marketing because beacons cover the most use cases: indoor navigation, push notifications (e.g. with instructions, coupons, special offers, etc.), and gathering of analytics. Another advantage is the impersonalized approach to statistics. It serves both customers’ and businesses’ interests as it does not violate user privacy but provides enough statistics on their behavior.
Moreover, BLE beacons can also have additional sensors onboard like an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and humidity sensors so that the area of implementation will become wider within the next three to five years.
Step 2: Tune your BLE beacons network. BLE beacons require a little more refinement. The biggest challenge today is to make distance measuring as accurate as possible. Both wireless and physical obstacles, as well as non-calibrated equipment, make the signals fluctuate, drop out, or display incorrectly. Repeated troubles include:
- radio-frequency interferences (RFI) as beacons share frequencies with Wi-Fi
- beacons toggle due to signal level hops (when a person is moving)
- loss of contact with the beacon (materials and human bodies absorb signals, often inhomogeneously)
- incorrect location display on the map
The following is what we can do to improve smartphone to BLE beacons interaction:
- choose the channel that the Wi-Fi does not use
- place beacons so that in every place you have at least three beacons in the line of sight in order to use the triangulation method
- experiment to achieve optimal BLE beacons density
- put beacons high enough over users’ heads so they have a clear signal path
- tune the range and signal strength so that beacons’ batteries do not discharge quickly
- utilize auxiliary technologies (like those based on the magnetic field) to improve coordinate calculation
Step 3: Adjust your software. Mapping software needs tuning at the site. What the user sees on his smartphone must correspond to what he actually sees. We accomplish the above with the following:
- adapt the map to the actual signal levels
- calibrate beacons to exclude other sorts of interferences and combine them with auxiliary signals on the software level
- fingerprint the BLE beacons in order to mark their position in the system
- use Kalman filter to improve precision
- regularly monitor beacons’ response via the app in order to detect missing, discharged, or broken beacons
We should note that depending on the specific conditions, a variety of approaches might be preferable (Wi-Fi, BLE beacons or Indoor atlas). The decision on what technology to use can only be done on a case by case basis.
BLE beacons are the most advanced technology for navigation and wireless notification. But they also require improvement measures if you want to receive precise data. This is why we base indoor navigation on a complex approach using all or most of the methods listed above. Another important point is testing of the model inside the real object with its unique tricks which help tune the navigation and improve the weak sides of the project.