Beacons Bring Wayfinding and Indoor Navigation Into Real-Time

Can beacons upgrade wayfinding and indoor navigation technology?

Beacons Bring Wayfinding and Indoor Navigation Into Real-Time

Modern customers expect advanced wayfinding and indoor navigation. They want GPS within buildings and small spaces. Can BLE beacons make it happen?

BLE Beacons Bring New Possibilities to Wayfinding and Indoor Navigation

You enter a large, intercity train station. It is huge, and you are about to miss your train. Unfortunately, you have never even been to this station before. Perhaps you do not even speak the language written on most of the signage. You try to read a map, but it is hard to know which direction goes where.How do you find where you are going, fast?

Beacons are small Bluetooth devices that can communicate with a smartphones. They are often used for wayfinding within buildings, making visitors’ lives infinitely easier. If the train station in this scenario had a beacon infrastructure, a lost person could simply activate the relevant app. The beacons would then help the app understand exactly where the user is standing.

The result is a wayfinding app akin to GPS that works both indoors and out.

Beacon wayfinding has been utilized in:

  • airports
  • train stations
  • hospitals
  • museums
  • zoos

The Sheremetyevo International Airport in Russia used beacons to help passengers navigate the terminals better—and they aren’t the only ones. KLM installed beacons in the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, and the Atlanta airport and  Berlin’s Tegel airport have deployed beacons.

How is a Beacon Wayfinding System Constructed?

There are two ways to build a beacon infrastructure: point-based, where a beacon is associated with a certain object, like an exhibit in a museum; and grid-based, where beacons cover the entire space and create a grid that can recognize users’ actual positions. In wayfinding, beacons are spread all over a space, allowing an app to understand users’ locations anywhere on the premises.

The result is a complete beacon infrastructure. This means it can also be leveraged for other use cases like sending push notifications and data generation. Exactly how the system works and what it is capable of are determined by the relevant app and programs. Two beacon-based indoor navigation systems can actually work very differently depending on their algorithms, combination of technologies, and expectations.

Wayfinding With Different Technologies

Bluetooth is not the first technology to address the problem of wayfinding. Companies have used NFC, QR codes, and GPS to try to tackle it. Many of these solutions, however, have proven either ineffectual or impractical. GPS, though great for several large-scale or outdoor scenarios, is not suitable to the indoors or more precise tracking.

There are several uses for NFC and QR, but in wayfinding they often hit a snag. They both act more as point-based systems than grid-based. This means an app can only say “you are standing here,” instead of showing any kind of real-time path. If the user turns the wrong way, they will not know it until they scan at the next point. This is a huge difference for users who are accustomed to instant information from apps like Google Maps. This method requires constant checking and is not so different from physical maps; beacons, however, can make indoor, outdoor, and precise wayfinding a near real-time experience.

Accurate and easy-to-use wayfinding technology can be used in factories, getting employees from one side of the complex to the other via the fastest route possible. It can be used in museums to help visitors find a certain exhibit easily. In airports, it can remove the horrible stress of finding a gate with poorly planned or confusing signage. These infrastructure allow for faster and more efficient movement as well as a more comfortable customer experience.

Giving the Visually Impaired More Options

Finally, one of the most famous use cases for beacons, is also providing the visually impaired with wayfinding technology. This is the reason was founded in the first place. Because beacons can communicate with the phones of the visually impaired, telling them exactly where they are and which way they should go.

Would YOU use beacons for indoor navigation? Tweet us your thoughts or questions!