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From GPS to IPS, the New Trend of Positioning System

Smart phones are equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS), most drivers do not hesitate to bring a map while they are on the road. The GPS can assist users in identifying directions and is a very practical tool. However, satellite signals can hardly penetrate walls, GPS is not viable in an indoor environment as a result. On the other hand, the Indoor Positioning System (IPS) can be regarded as an indoor version of GPS. It provides navigation information in vast buildings and exhibition halls, museums and other venues. While it has been disappointing in terms of accuracy and user experience. Experts have been spending efforts on the development of IPS, aiming to provide positioning solutions in indoor buildings, such as exhibition halls, museums, shopping malls, airports etc. However, the performance of IPS is far from satisfactory.

Problems of IPS

The current IPS system has many technical issues. First of all, poor map production and inaccuracy are the main problems leading to a poor user experience. Secondly, the indoor partitions may make the IPS signal unstable, it also affects the overall user experience. In addition, indoor structures will reflect signals and cause interference. The signals on different floors will interfere each other; these interferences will reduce the accuracy of IPS.

To imagine, when you take an escalator from one floor to another floor in a shopping mall, most IPS systems fail to work in such circumstances, it will pause as long as one minute. This is because the change of the floor may confuse the system about the person’s location, therefore the system tries to correct it repeatedly. In that scenario, the IPS program of the user may encounter a suspension on the way to the destination, they will generally quit the program and seek help from others directly. This is one of the reasons why IPS has not been widely adopted.

A brief of IPS technology

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Magnetic Field Positioning are the most common IPS technologies in configuration.

1) Wi-Fi: The range of positioning accuracy is limited from 5 to 15 meters, which can hardly cover every exhibition booth shop.

2) Magnetic Field Positioning: Although the cost is relatively low, it is easily interfered by nearby signals of electronic equipment. For example, as minor as an action of switching a Bluetooth headset may sufficiently affect the magnetic field, prompting the IPS to self-correct. Therefore, the performance of Wi-Fi network and Magnetic Field Positioning system is not ideal in that sense.

3) Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE): The beacon is a one-way transmitter, it can only broadcast signals, but not receive any data. Therefore it won’t pose any security threat to the users. BLE system requires low cost. It makes a better balance between cost and performance.

What is Co-location Technology?

The Co-location Technology can extend the IPS network and enhance the signal at locations with poor reception. The principle is to use a beacon to send the location signal to a nearby smartphone, and the mobile phone that receives the signal will act as a beacon and forward the location signal, and so on like a relay race. In such a way, the positioning signal not only bypass obstacles, but also remain strong and stable without any blind spots no matter which corner the user stands on.

Blue Pin spent four years on developing various hardware and software from scratch. They are dealing with multiple factors that may affect the accuracy of IPS . Dolphin IPS finally obtained patents for its Co-location Technology and a series of complex algorithms to ensure positioning accuracy.

How to refine Indoor Positioning technology to an accurate and stable system

The team also adopted Augmented Reality (AR) to improve navigation functions. An arrow is added on the real scene captured by the lens to indicate the direction of the user, therefore the user can reach the destination in the fastest and easiest way.

In addition to enabling stable and accurate cross-floor indoor navigation, Dolphin can also provide a source of useful data. It records the user's digital footprint anonymously in the system coverage area. With big data analysis, it helps venue managers, department stores, small merchants, exhibitors to identify the users’ selected routes, the time spent on a particular store or booth, etc. so as to better understand the behaviour of their target customers. Based on the data collected, when users enter the coverage area again, the system will send them advertisements, discount codes and other consumer information relevant to the customer, it enhances users’ desire for consumption and shopping experience. It is definitely a draw to the existing as well as the new customers. From the perspective of the human resources management from the venue, they can make an effective real-time HR deployment based on the location and distribution of customers’ data. Users can easily find friends in the venue and know their location clearly with our system. In an emergency situation, they can send out a message to seek help, the security or first-aid team reach the spot to offer appropriate assistance in a timely manner.

P.S. In November 2019, the Dolphin Indoor Positioning System won the gold medal at the 71st iENA International Invention Exhibition in Nuremberg, Germany. Blue Pin is also an award-winning project of the PolyU Micro Fund Project.