What is Indoor Navigation and Why is it Important?

Indoor navigation is a system that can help people locate objects or other people inside a building. It is sometimes called Indoor GPS and it can operate through radio waves, magnetic fields, acoustic signals, and other information collected by mobile devices. The technology is still inexact and evolving, but the basics include some form of distance measurement, magnetic positioning and something called dead reckoning. These functions come together under one umbrella to find people and objects by identifying and locating mobile devices or tags.

As can be imagined, this is not easy to accomplish inside a building that has solid concrete walls, steel beams and maybe even a metal roof. Most buildings are designed to be well insulated against both the elements and outside noise and while this works well for those purposes, it also prevents most satellite devices from tracking anything inside a building. Some forms of tracking could follow heat patterns generated by human beings moving around inside the building, but they are unable to distinguish between individuals, making them almost worthless for indoor tracking purposes.

But what does work, as indoor navigation systems have found is following the signals from mobile phones and other hand-held computing devices. That has led Indoor GPS to become very helpful for a number of uses and major technology companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are trying to figure out how to master it and make it more effective. For many different applications, it already is. Here are some of the ways that indoor navigation is becoming very important.

Assistance for Visually Impaired

One popular indoor navigation has been developed for people who are blind or have low vision. It is used in more than 130 countries by more than 10.000 people. It announces public locations to users within a building like washrooms and elevators when they approached by a user equipped with a mobile device. It works in conjunction with a set of beacons that are small, low energy Bluetooth devices. These devices broadcast a unique ID that can be received by smartphones and sends messages to the user. It will even work underground in a tunnel or subway station.

Emergency Response Systems

For a few years now the Federal Communications Commission in the United States has been looking at the use of Indoor GPS to improve its emergency response programs. In 2012, they undertook a study that started developing a baseline for indoor positioning for use in emergency response situations. This work is still underway and while much more research is required, it is expected that the Federal Communications Commission will move soon to make announcements that they are moving forward to add indoor navigation to its emergency response systems around the country.


Indoor navigation systems are already being used by some hospitals to track patients within their facilities. This is particularly helpful for hospitals with multiple buildings and to monitor low-risk patients who are free to wander both within their grounds and to move between buildings on a hospital campus. For higher security patients, it allows the staff the ability to go about their work, tracking that the patients in their care to ensure that they do not leave their designated areas or move into unsafe locations.

Shopping Malls and Museums

The owners of shopping malls are also using Indoor GPS systems to find lost children or attract customers to certain stores. The indoor navigation system alerts mall visitors when they approach certain stores and offers them special deals or incentives to come inside. For museums and art galleries this type of system is being utilized to add value to some guided tours and to even provide a guided tour experience without a human to accompany their visitors.