How Businesses Can Use an Indoor Navigation App

March 29, 2018

Businesses can use an indoor positioning and navigation app to map out large buildings, like malls and airports, for visitors. This article explains how those apps work, as well as how much effort it takes to create one.

Shopping malls, offices, university campuses, hospitals, airports, warehouses – all these buildings take up a large area, challenging visitors who want to find their way quickly.

Indoor positioning and navigation apps can solve that problem.

The idea behind indoor positioning and navigation apps is simple: Inside large facilities – where GPS does not work — the app helps smartphone users locate and get to certain destinations.

My team at IT Craft has been helping to create navigation platforms capable of providing benefits for both facility owners and visitors. These platforms can be quickly adjusted based on each facility’s requirements. We wanted to share some of our expertise with you, including how indoor positioning apps function and how to make them.

What Information Do Indoor Navigation Apps Show?

An indoor navigation app shows visitors their position on the map and creates the shortest route to a destination. It also lets users receive messages from system administrators.

An example is Gatwick Airport's app, which directs users to their destinations.

Gatwick Airport indoor navigation mobile app

The app uses augmented reality (AR) technology and beacons to create comprehensive indoor maps.

Indoor navigation apps have three main purposes: positioning, navigation, and push notifications.

  • Positioning – locate a place inside a facility, e.g., store in a shopping mall
  • Navigation – create the shortest route to the chosen destination, such as from a store to a parked car.
  • Push notifications – send messages to the user’s smartphone

Why Visitors Like Indoor Navigation Apps

For visitors, the app makes it possible to use their smartphones to get to their chosen destination. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Getting an online map of a facility
  • Searching for venues
  • Creating and viewing the routes
  • Getting voice directions to chosen destination and back

Why Facility Owners and Businesses Like Indoor Navigation Apps

For facility and business owners, the app makes it possible to:

  • Collect data on users’ favorite places, number of visitors, time spent, etc.
  • Send notifications
  • Link the app to products and trigger an action, e.g., show discounts when a user heads for a certain destination

How Do Indoor Navigation Apps Work?

Indoor navigation apps combine data from several sources to calculate a user’s position.

The input data includes:

  • Signals from a transmitter (beacons, Wi-Fi access points)
  • Information from smartphone sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope)
  • Facility maps (information about walls, obstacles, elevators, and staircases is essential)

Thus, an indoor navigation system needs:

  • A smartphone with a dedicated app
  • BLE Beacons/ fingerprinting (these guide the user through the facility)
  • A facility map
  • Back-end servers – indoor navigation calculation is an intensive process

What Hardware Do Indoor Navigation Apps Require?

An indoor navigation system also needs hardware, and there are three main types.

The best way to ensure accuracy is to mix these approaches.

Wi-Fi Access Points

Wi-Fi access points function as signal transmitters. They do not calculate user position – the user’s smartphone does that, which eats up battery life.

BLE Beacons

BLE Beacons have a long battery life and a 2- to 3-meter range accuracy. Both Android and iOS devices support their signals.

Also, BLE beacons-based navigation solutions calculate the route on the server, eliminating extra load on the user device.

However, a user must be within the range of at least three BLE beacons. This is called the triangulation method.

Beacon triangulation positioning navigation app

The number of beacons required depends on the number of obstacles, such as walls. The Indoor Beacon Calculator helps determine how many beacons you need.

Geofencing

Geofencing uses a smartphone’s built-in compass and a geomagnetic map of the venue.

However, the magnetic field must be stable. With every new source of electromagnetic emission, the product owner has to update the geomagnetic map.

What Features Does an Indoor Navigation App Include?

An indoor navigation should have the following basic features:

  • Positioning – Determines a user's location
  • Mapping – Shows all locations and possible routes
  • Routing – Creates the best route and guides the visitor to the point of destination
  • Analytics– Shows the number of visitors and user behavior inside the facility
  • Administrative capabilities– Lets building managers maintain beacons, set up promotional campaigns, and more

You might also want to include some optional features, such as:

  • Custom design 
  • Voice guidance
  • 3D map visualization 
  • Login via a Facebook account 
  • Find-a-friend

How Much Does a Navigation App Cost to Develop?

Basic features cost between $10,000 to 50,000. Optional features range from $20,000 to $50,000.

When it comes to hardware, the average price for a three-piece kit of BLE Beacons is $20 to $60 each. The price for geofencing differs based on your request.

After you make or commission an indoor navigation app, expect to update it routinely. Some of the services you might have to pay for after development include:

Third-Party Services

You’ll have to pay for a subscription to a location engine and possibly PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) solutions, such as map storage, to cut down on maintenance.

Servers

Product owners should create a server with all the mapping information stored. This saves time when a beacon’s battery dies and you need a replacement. Another server contains information on marketing campaigns and BLE beacons used for push notifications.

Device Upgrades/Updates

Indoor navigation apps should be updated every time beacons or smartphones are updated. That way, your app won't experience glitches.

Indoor Positioning Apps Provide Guidance and Data

An indoor positioning and navigation app helps visitors find their way inside large facilities. For businesses, the app provides analytics tools to study user behavior.

An indoor navigation system can use different technologies – based on which technology is the best fit for the provided type of facility. It switches seamlessly from one technology to another, as required.

If you’re searching for a method to help people find their way inside large complexes, such as airports and malls, an indoor navigation app may be the solution.


About the Author

Anthony Suddia headshot IT CraftAnthony Suddia is a content specialist at web and mobile development company IT Craft. He enjoys writing about IT Craft’s experience in technical and managerial questions related to custom software development. Anthony focuses on trends in digital technologies that make people’s lives more comfortable.

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