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.

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.

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