Article
Have you ever caught yourself wondering why someone hasn’t invented a 
GPS that works indoors? Maybe it’s been during a rush through an airport
 or while wandering a hospital’s hallways trying to find a loved one’s 
room – or, maybe, just last week, trying to find where the mayonnaise 
was moved to in your local supermarket’s latest reorganization. We’ve 
got smartphone apps that can tell us the fastest way to drive across the
 country, so why isn’t there an app for navigating big box stores and 
conference centers?

Lost in the Supermarket? Now There’s an App for That.

Chuck Ross
Have you ever caught yourself wondering why someone hasn’t invented a GPS that works indoors? Maybe it’s been during a rush through an airport or while wandering a hospital’s hallways trying to find a loved one’s room – or, maybe, just last week, trying to find where the mayonnaise was moved to in your local supermarket’s latest reorganization. We’ve got smartphone apps that can tell us the fastest way to drive across the country, so why isn’t there an app for navigating big box stores and conference centers?

Well, it turns out, there actually will soon be an app for that.  A number of companies are beginning to launch this technology, called an “indoor positioning system,” or IPS, for short. Unlike GPS apps, which use satellites to determine your (or, more accurately, your smartphone’s) location, an IPS uses wireless Bluetooth beacons, along with an advanced lighting technology called visible light communication (VLC), to track your course.

Unlike GPS’s, there isn’t just one single IPS that will work for all locations. Instead, facilities will each need to develop their own location-specific app. But those apps should all work with current-generation smartphones. Bluetooth technology has already established itself in wireless consumer products ranging from computer keyboards to portable speakers. VLC is newer. It uses imperceptible pulses of light to pass data to a smartphone app through the phone’s front-facing camera. This approach is only possible with LED lighting, with its programmable, solid-state capabilities.

Of course, as with any such free service, host locations – especially retailers – could benefit from the data an IPS will offer back to them. You’ll likely be offered special pricing on products you’re walking by, on your way to your destination. And the path shoppers take through a store might well be analyzed, as a whole, to help retailers better plan product placement.

“For owners, an IPS can lead to improvements in operational efficiencies related to staffing, as well as customer or occupant engagement,” says Chris Bailey, vice president of Integrated Solutions for Hubbell International. That company has teamed with Signify (formerly Philips Lighting) to bring interior positioning capabilities to a number of its lighting lines. “Through the use of anonymized location analytics data, owners are able to gain better insights into building utilization, better anticipate resource requirements and more effectively plan related facility investments.”

Everyday users, though, will still have to manage one of the biggest challenges still posed outdoor GPS apps – remembering to look up from the phone to avoid collisions with oncoming shoppers.
Photo courtesy of Hubbell Lighting
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