This is the first in a series of articles examining the potential for indoor location-based services in public safety communications. Future articles will discuss our first-hand experience testing an indoor LBS application, as well as perspectives on the future of indoor LBS.
Odds are you have looked at the mapping application on your phone recently, maybe to find the nearest coffee shop or to give you directions through an unfamiliar city. Or perhaps you’ve noticed that ads on your mobile Facebook app tend to suggest companies that are right around the corner or show you what friends are at the same event. These features make use of geo-targeting. Geo-targeting capabilities have started changing the way we interact with the world around us and there is little doubt that this change will continue.
Simply put, geo-targeting allows data to be sent to devices in specific geographic areas. Some of the biggest users of geo-targeting are wireless providers, advertisers, mobile application developers, and authorities like the police and intelligence community. These organizations use geo-targeting to make sure your calls come through clearly, applications know what restaurants are close to your hotel, and to determine where your 911 call is originating from. These and other groups use a variety of technologies such as cell ID Wi-Fi triangulation, geo fencing, the global positioning system (GPS), and cell ID assisted GPS (A-GPS), with precision ranging from several square miles to just a few feet.
Although GPS allows your smartphone to determine your location down to a few yards, it doesn’t work very well indoors. A recent geo-targeting innovation that solves this problem is the emergence of indoor radio-location fingerprinting, which has improved the capabilities of indoor location based services (LBS). . This allows for a mobile device to pinpoint its location within a building by using the different radio frequencies that are used within a structure, such as Wi-Fi and cellular signals. More on that in a later post.
The most immediate applications for something like this are in large, public buildings like airports and shopping malls. Imagine that you were in Los Angeles International Airport and had only a few minutes to reach your connection back to AWARE HQ in Washington, DC. An indoor LBS application such as Google Maps 6.0 could determine what terminal and gate you were located in, and then provide you with directions to the gate you needed to be heading towards. In shopping malls, indoor LBS might determine that you were in front of Banana Republic, and then send a coupon for half-price dress shirts to an application on your phone.
What hasn’t yet been addressed is the potential for indoor LBS to change the way we respond to in-building emergencies, such as fires, hostage situations and earthquakes. With the ability to determine the location of devices inside of a building, a fire-fighter could see if there were people clustered in a stairwell inside of a burning office building and come to the rescue. Or, earthquake rescue crews could pull up the last known device location or missing persons and know what area to search for survivors. The potential is enormous for indoor LBS to change the face of emergency response and public safety communications.
There are a few companies that are at the forefront of indoor LBS innovation. One of these is Qubulus. Based in Sweden, Qubulus uses indoor radio fingerprinting to map the Wi-Fi and cellular signals at different points within a building. It then merges this data with building floor plans to provide your device with accurate data about your position within a building. This appears on their Gecko device application, with can be downloaded on Android devices. Qubulus recently closed a beta testing phase, and the AWARE team had a chance to test their technology in our offices. We approached this with disaster response specifically in mind, which has not been a focus of this technology so far.
In the next article in this series, we will be showing how we collected our data, what problems we encountered, and will demo the application. We’ll also provide a more detailed explanation of how this technology works, and what we believe are the relevant applications for the emergency preparedness and response communities.