You sure are amused by the GPS and location services that enable you do navigate, find places every single day of your life.
Location is often most accurately determined using GPS aided by Wireless networks in the vicinity. From Self-driving cars, GPS navigators to portable smartphones, the Global Position System is not flawless, it has one fundamental flaw: It never works indoors.
Low power, Long distance GPS Operation
Well, GPS is satellite driven and its impossible for the signals to travel 20,200km and still penetrate through walls. The signal gets degraded by the time it reaches the surface of earth, going a little further would require a very high transmitting power for a solar charged satellite feeding millions of devices simultaneously — you can’t seriously expect a 50-watt signal traveling 12,000 miles to do the same. To give you a rough idea, detecting a GPS signal on Earth is comparable to detecting the light from a 25-watt bulb from 10,000 miles.
GPS to measure Altitude
GPS and, the Russian standard, GLONASS can measure altitude, but its inaccurate and too low-resolution (~10-25 meters). But such a precision is good enough to determine various factors about a locale and helping develop further suggest tips for farming to tracking a friend.
A year before today, Indoor navigation was something way too ambitious. Indoor Positioning was not possible, but with Google Maps for Android, we finally saw Indoor Navigation taking shape. Google’s Indoor navigation has information about floor plans of shopping malls, airports, and other large commercial areas. Broadcom has also been working on a new chip (BCM4752) that supports indoor positioning systems. This will soon be available in modern Smartphones.
GPS is a standard way of positioning outdoors, however, Indoor navigation is entirely different domain. Google chose track Wifi approach. — Using smartphones, it already knows where the WiFi hotspots are in a given building, and through Wifi signal strength triangulation it can calculate your approximate proximity inside a building.
Nokia also has developed a similar solution but is less resilient since it uses Bluetooth rather than Wifi. Researchers have also suggested that among other methods, Infrared and acoustic analysis can help detect indoor location. However, none of the suggested ways is reliable and accurate. All these signals can be dispersed, interfered, converted to noise depending upon the shape and objects inside the building.
Standardizing Reliable Indoor Position System (IPS)
It could be years before we see a standardization in this, but Broadcom might be taking the very first step towards it. Broadcom’s chip supports IPS through WiFi, Bluetooth, and even NFC. The IPS chip also interacts with Phone’s gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer, and altimeter. Acting like a glorified pedometer, this Broadcom BCM4752 chip could almost track your movements without wireless network triangulation. It simply has to take note of your entry point (via GPS), and then count your steps (accelerometer), direction (gyroscope), and altitude (altimeter). Together, it all starts making sense. It knows the absolute position, and then onwards all moments are tracked to create delta of movement: Direction, distance.
Indoor Positioning / Navigation systems are just around the corner, and they will change the way we navigate inside the buildings.