Between the recent announcements that both Google and Nokia are getting serious about building out indoor mapping services, it certainly seems that GPS locating and mapping are poised to extend beyond (or is it behind? Inside?) the street level.
Indoor mapping works essentially the same way Google Maps does for outdoor mapping, except that it shows the insides of locations like hospitals, schools, malls, and theme parks, and allowing users to see their location — the floor they’re on, their room number, etc. — in real time using their smartphone or tablet.
The technology is still in its early stages, and only a handful of startups (besides relative giants like Google and Nokia) are actively mapping indoor locations. So far, indoor mapping has been used mostly by consumers to navigate complex or disorienting places like the mall, or a convention center. But Ankit Agarwal, CEO of indoor-mapping provider Micello, thinks the uses for the technology have the potential to go deeper — and possibly provide field service companies with another useful technological tool.
“Look at a package-delivery company,” Agarwal told the SmartVan. “They go into these huge office buildings with a bunch of packages and get lost. It would be extremely valuable if they had a way to navigate these offices — like a device that loads a map and tells you how to get to room 304.”
Agarwal makes a great point. Service technicians often find themselves in unfamiliar locations for a job, like a massive office building or apartment complex, with little idea where they’re going. Time is lost, frustrations mount and service quality drops. Being able to look up a map of the building on your iPhone starts looking pretty clever.
“There’s a space between the indoor [computer-assisted drawings] and outdoor maps that hasn’t been served,” says Agarwal. “With indoor mapping, we’ve created a layer between those two layers to show information a human might be interested in.”
And besides just figuring out where you are when you’re lost, indoor mapping holds other potential uses, Agarwal says.
“The mapping data we have could tell you the location of all vending machines on a campus,” he says. “Using indoor mapping, the company managing the machine’s supply chain could hook up its machines to the internet and, in real-time, check the machine’s capacity, when it was last serviced and where it’s located. With mapping technology, you now have a visual way to check all of that.”
Agarwal also noted that the technology can be customized, with an open API that allows companies to add any maps they want.
He acknowledged that the technology is still very new and has not seen much commercial implementation yet. Additionally, not nearly enough locations have been mapped — his company, Micello, has mapped about 8,500 venues worldwide — to fully realize indoor mapping’s potential. However, as the Googles and Nokias of the world dip their feet in, Agarwal sees the industry gaining credibility and taking off.
“Indoor mapping implementation for facilities management could happen in late 2012 or early 2013,” he predicts. “We keep thinking of new locations — if 50 to 100 people go to a specific location a week, it’s worth mapping.”