Indoor positioning technology…promising yet still working in progress

It is important to know where you are and how to get to your destination. Today GPS is the word often comes to our mind first when we need navigation, but it only works for outdoor environment, not inside the buildings. As for indoor navigation, wifi and Bluetooth are the mainstream solutions at this stage. For instance, in August 2015, Tecent made a strategic investment in Sensewhere, a UK company specialized in using signals from indoor electromagnetic sources like Wifi routers and Bluetooth to pinpoint a user’s location in areas like shopping mall and airports(see video demo below). It is said Tencent bought Sensewhere’s license and has integrated the software into its Map system.



But they have their own limitations, in terms of accuracy, coverage, cost, stability.


  • relatively inaccurate compared to Bluetooth
  • not possible with ios devices


  • might require additional hardware
  • relatively small range compared to Wifi
  • instability with layout changes and radio interference

Then geomagnetic technology came into the scene. It does not require any specific hardware installation. It simply calculates distortions on the earth’s natural magnetic field caused by metallic structures inside buildings. Back in September 2014, Baidu invested USD10 million in a Finnish startup IndoorAtlas. The startup uses the earth’s geomagnetic field to find locations inside a building and can achieve accuracy within two meters (see video explanation below). Baidu is said to implement IndoorAtlas solution in order to complement, not to replace, its existing location-based services and mapping products.



In 2015, a local startup UbiRouting was born, claiming its geomagnetic indoor positioning enhance accuracy up to one meter. It even won an award from Microsoft Indoor Localization Competition. However, after 2 years’ operation, the company website is no longer existent and official incorporation record indicates the status of “deregistered”. The main disadvantage of the technology is you cannot change the layout of the venue frequently, which in turn will change the building’s magnetic, then you would need to do a mapping process again.



In 2015, it was also the year that Carrefour experimented with the concept of Visual Light Positioning (check out the video below).



Nevertheless, the adoption did not seem swell. Visual Light Positioning has the pitfalls such as:

  • Low flexibility when installing lamps
  • high costs
  • draws on the reserves of smartphone battery


So far, the truth is no perfect single technology stands out for indoor positioning and many service providers actually take a hybrid approach, that is combining different solution together to solve the problem. Since Google is the king of outdoor GPS, this giant company has been pushing the idea of “Indoor GPS” as well. The latest news in May this year is it announced a service to offer detailed indoor location positioning using its Tango (AR platform) 3D sensing computer vision.



The “Indoor GPS” holds a great promise. Not only does it offer a more personalized, convenient shopping or navigation experience, but also provides tons of data about actional insights into user’s behaviors and beyond.


Author: Cecilia Wu