Mobile Technology

Smartsense navigation system works where GPS won't - indoors

Smartsense navigation system w...
The Smartsense system provides real-time turn by turn navigation indoors (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
The Smartsense system provides real-time turn by turn navigation indoors (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
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The Smartsense system provides real-time turn by turn navigation indoors (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
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The Smartsense system provides real-time turn by turn navigation indoors (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
The sensor module is barely larger than a fingernail (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
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The sensor module is barely larger than a fingernail (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
The Smartsense system provides real-time turn by turn navigation indoors (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
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The Smartsense system provides real-time turn by turn navigation indoors (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
The sensor module is barely larger than a fingernail (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
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The sensor module is barely larger than a fingernail (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
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It's not that long ago that GPS capabilities in a mobile phone were considered a standout feature. Today, GPS navigation is standard for smartphones, and as a result, many of us have come to rely on them when it comes to getting from A to B. However, GPS technology isn't without its faults, and if A to B is located under a roof, out of sight of the orbiting GPS satellites, then you can end up falling back on the not always reliable sense of direction. To fix the problem, Fraunhofer Research is developing Smartsense, a smartphone sensor capable of providing accurate navigation indoors, without the aid of GPS.

While Fraunhofer isn’t the first to take a crack at indoor navigation, Smartsense appears to have a great deal of promise - particularly for sprawling indoor areas such as shopping malls or convention centers. At its core, Smartsense is powered by a combination of two sensors working in tandem. An acceleration sensor registers how fast a user is walking, and a magnetic field sensor is used to track movement through the Earth’s natural magnetic field. Together, these sensors provide accurate location data which can then be used by smartphone applications to provide detailed indoor directions.

The sensor module is barely larger than a fingernail (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)
The sensor module is barely larger than a fingernail (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)

Despite the incredibly accurate sensor, the system cannot function if the phone has no knowledge of the building. Fraunhofer Research believes that eventually, users will be able to download maps within applications, or scan QR codes containing map downloads, and then use Smartsense to navigate along with these maps. We've already seen the beginnings of this, as Google Maps for Android now features indoor maps for select malls and trade shows, but as of now, there is no way to provide real-time navigation for these indoor maps, as the application relies on GPS. This is where the Smartsense module could make a real splash when combined with popular software like Google Maps.

Smartsense is being developed by Fraunhofer researchers, together with the Bosch Corporation and other partners. Whether or not it makes its way into your next smartphone really depends on the major phone manufacturers and whether they believe it is a feature that people will want. Its developers will be doing their best to convince anyone who will listen of the advantages of the system at the Sensor+Test 2012 trade show taking place in Nuremberg next week.

Source: Fraunhofer Research

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8 comments
railwaymen
I'm not convinced. All I want to say is that sooner or later, we won't be able to move around without navigation tools, maps, etc. People should at least to try to keep their instincts instead of relying on GPS and stuff like that. I mean we all need to know how to read maps of course, but maybe indoor navigation isn't that necessary.
Rocky Stefano
I have to agree with Railwaymen. When I was a kid I could remember 20-30 telephone numbers. My parents, their office, my grandparents home, work , etc. My kids can barely remember their own numbers unless they're programmed onto their mobile phone. Some technologies are better left so that people aren't dumbed down.
bgrh
The other serious application is navigating in the NorthEast where there are lots of tunnels - and GPS is lost routinely. Think the Big Dig in Boston, which underground exit do I take? This should become standard kit.
krulwich
Indoor location services are poised to explode. It's not just navigation, it's foursquare check-ins, searching for products in nearby stores, location-based coupons, finding friends in malls, location sharing, virtual tourguides in museums, and more.
I just released a 163-page report covering research at over a dozen major mobile companies, chip makers like Broadcom Qualcomm CSR and others, and over 30 start-ups.
Lots of revolutionary stuff coming! http://www.grizzlyanalytics.com/report_2012_05_indoor.html
PaulW
Some of the comments regarding this article imply that indoor navigation isn't necessary or that it's minimally useful. Indoor navigation would be very useful to folks who are visually impaired or who are physically disabled. Consider linking this system to a headset that auditorially directed blind people. Or consider making it available to people for whom traversing an extra few hundred feet is burdensome (due to a locomotive disability.)
VirtualGathis
@railwaymen & Rocky Stefano: The same thing was said about reading and writing in the middle ages. Prior to common uptake of reading and writing it was common for people to memorize entire conversations and be able to repeat them verbatim. Messengers were frequently given verbal messages and required to recite them back without deviation. There were arguments then that reading and writing should be banned as it killed these abilities and made thought and history "dead". There is a similar debate over spell check. Why will people memorize the spelling of thousands or millions of words when just about every electronic gadget will do it for them… I'd be willing to bet there has been a similar argument about every technologic innovation since the invention of fire.
Chuckie Haggerty
This subject has always been very interesting to me. GPS tracking seems very scientific and kinda hard to manage. What really gets me is tracking by GPS. How can one track another human using a satelite so far away? Amazing stuff. Thanks for posting, this was very insightful.
notarichman
i do a lot of outdoor sports and have noticed that most gps units will not track your location when: under trees, along side a cliff (limited satellite reception), in a mine, extremely bad weather. there was an attempt to make a unit (earl on meetearl.com) to make a survival unit, but the "makers" took the money and have not produced any units for their backers. it was supposed to keep track of location via 3 different methods, one of which was gps. it was supposed to have good mapping, radio comms, emergency satellite signal, etc. the closest i have found is the "inreach" gps unit by delorme and it doesn't do everything the earl was supposed to do. does anyone know of a better unit?