Mapping and localization for indoor mapping is gaining momentum in consumer verticals of IT and software services industry to propose new age technological solutions and process re-engineering services that helps in providing value added features to the consumers of the verticals. Also the consumer data mining and data analytics are pushing new dimensions with the indoor mapping technologies to provide new insights into the consumer and end-users’ psyche. This ultimately opening doors to provide better and delightful user experience for the user during his shopping experiences.
Technology Used for Indoor Maps
Despite the fact that the location determination of mobile users within a building has attracted much attention lately due to its many applications in mobile networking including network intrusion detection problems, it is challenging due to the complexities of the indoor radio propagation characteristics exacerbated by the mobility of the user. Global navigation satellite systems (GPS or GNSS, which act as the benchmark for the standard Map related applications development, are generally not suitable to establish indoor locations, since microwaves will be attenuated and scattered by roofs, walls and other objects. Due to the signal attenuation caused by construction materials, the satellite based Global Positioning System (GPS) loses significant power indoors affecting the required coverage for receivers by at least for satellites. In addition to this, the multiple reflections at surfaces cause multi-path propagation serving for uncontrollable errors. So the most popular among the technologies that are employed for indoor mapping scenario is the wireless technologies like Wifi and RFID.
In Radio-Frequency identification (RFID) systems, the simple concept of location indexing and presence reporting for tagged objects are used, that only acts as the object identification. Typically RFIDs do not report the signal strengths and various distances of single tags or of a pulk of tags and do not renew any before known location coordinates of the sensor or current location of any tags. Operability of such approaches requires some narrow passage to prevent from passing by out of range. In Grid concepts, a dense network of low-range receivers may be arranged, e.g. in a grid pattern for economy, throughout the space being observed. Due to the low range, a tagged entity will be identified by only a few close, networked receivers. An identified tag must be within range of the identifying reader, allowing a rough approximation of the tag location. Advanced systems combine visual coverage with a camera grid with the wireless coverage for the rough location.
The use enhanced Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide location information actually provides the missing piece that only RFID can not provide. WiFi infrastructure help in establishing more accurate and stable landmarks, which serve to anchor the various partial trajectories. This approach uses Received signal strength indication (RSSI) – that is a measurement of the power level received by sensor. Because radio waves propagate according to the inverse-square law, distance can be approximated based on the relationship between transmitted and received signal strength (the transmission strength is a constant based on the equipment being used), as long as no other errors contribute to faulty results.
Once the user and/or the tracking objects are located and tracked for their movement, the resulting data is mapped to the pre-built indoor location map to provide meaningful observations on the user’s location in particular section of indoor space and based on this the shopping experience of the user can be enhanced.
Indoor Maps in Consumer or Retail Verticals
During the last few decades, research on localization for exploration and navigation in indoor environments has made significant progress. However this technology was not accessible to the consumers till Google declared “indoor maps” as the future of consumer facing verticals, which successful attempts in utilizing this technology in shopping malls, museum and related public places where the real-time user analytics based on his location inside the shop helped formulating a set of customized offering to the user to make his experience easier and delightful.
IKEA, one of the world’s leading home furnishings company, uses Google indoor maps for improving customer’s experience in navigating the stores that are typically “typically a two level building that ranges in size from 200,000 sq ft to 450,000 sq ft–the average size is approximately 320,000 sq ft” and which typically “can work against” the “IKEA’s goal is to make the customer feel comfortable and in control of their shopping experience” — “People can have a hard time navigating the store. There have been stories of people saying that they feel like we are are purposely keeping them in.We want to make their shopping experience as easy as possible” (Google).
In a typical customer’s experience in a large sized mall, or shopping store can be frustrating, when he “want the option to quickly find their way to a particular product or throughout the store”(Ibidem,1)and this is mostly the consumer sees as the product he “needs”. Whereas the shopper or the store owner’s intention in most cases is to “encourage customers to find items they didn’t know they needed” – which is in fact conflicting with the thought line of the customer that is more inclined towards the self-gratification through the identification of items of his need.
The common set of expectations that lies among the conflicts of interests between the shop/store owner and the shopper provides the foundation that helps sustaining the user experience of the shopper in such an eco-system. The common set of expectations mostly revolve around the concepts of getting (for shopper)and providing (for shop-owner)the best possible experience. The common mission when equipped with the technology, such as indoor maps, sets the momentum of better usability and at the same time offers avenues for more cash flow for the store owner.
Most of the mall or stores which have implemented indoor mapping technology have been profitable by capitalizing “on the growing population of smartphone users” who can use the technology through their handsets. As of March 2012, over 106 million people in the U.S. owned a smartphone with Apple and Google having market share of 30% and 51% respectively — which shows that a significant mass of the consumers are also depending on mobility as a medium to consume the technology aided services. This fact is itself acting as a catalyst to propel the usage of indoor maps in consumer sector. (comScore, 2012).
Keeping the user in-touch during the whole experience
One of the successful features of the indoor mapping eco-system is to keep the user informed at every step of his experience and maintain a communication thread between the user and the system. A sample flow is shown below where the two way communication is illustrated.
The illustration above highlights how a simple two way communication is established between the user (through his app on his mobile) and the indoor mapping backend running and performs the analysis of user location data to execute productive actions that meets the user goals and helps improve the user’s over shopping experience in the store.
(c) 2013-14, Samir Dash