Will 2014 be the year to crack indoor navigation in museums?

By Marielle van Tilburg

Indoor positioning is the holy grail of many museum technology aspirations - once the domain of stores and malls, to help pinpoint the location of their customers within 4 to 5 feet,  the technology is of course extremely attractive to museums and cultural heritage sites as well. Several beacon based, BTLE systems are hitting the streets right now and research is becoming available on new products being released by Google, as well as Apple’s upcoming IOS8 operating system. But one of the first to have gotten it right has been the Fraunhofer Institute, who have been working with Antenna to implement useful indoor navigation tools in several museums in Germany. First, a little background on where we've got to.


Google led the way with their indoor ‘street view’ maps in Google Maps. Google Art Project followed in late 2011 with 'Street View', which takes you inside select museums around the world. However, indoor navigation at Google really took off when it showed us Project Tango early this year.

Google’s Tango smartphone uses a Kinect-like sensor to create 3D maps of the entire world. The computer vision tech is used to create a full 3D map of your current environment. At its most basic, you might use Tango to create a map of your house, or a 3D model of your favourite antique. Tango has a depth sensor, a motion tracking camera, and two computer vision coprocessors. These two additional sensors and processors constantly scan your environment, combining all data into a single 3D model of the space around you.With Tango, your phone could quite easily compare your current location to a previously generated internal map, and tell you exactly where you are — and then direct you to exactly where you want to go, down to the exact shelf location for a product. Since it launched in February, we've been watching this development closely and starting to imagine the possibilities from accessible experience to virtual gaming.




Earlier this year, Apple was granted a patent to determine a user’s position when they’re indoors, using existing Wi-Fi infrastructure instead of requiring newer tech and hardware installations to support something like iBeacons. The system also incorporates GPS, and appears to describe tech similar to that Apple acquired when it bought WifiSLAM, a company that specialized in indoor positioning, back in March last year.

In iOS 8, Apple is adding some new Core Location features that let app developers get precise indoor positioning data from an iOS device’s sensors and it’s even letting venues contribute by signing-up to get help enabling indoor positioning. It uses WiFi technologies to provide extremely accurate indoor mapping and navigation features to developers.

This Wifislam presentation shows you how it works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGdvjvla1Tc



In 2010, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS, Germany, developed a navigation system that worked indoors, just like GPS in a car, and leads users to their destinations quickly and easily. It uses a very good, gapless WLAN network. These early developments evolved into awiloc, an indoor positioning system that continuously locate themselves and guide visitors by displaying relevant photos. Awiloc requires a carefully designed Wi-Fi infrastructure to reliably identify floors and rooms and collect high-resolution positioning data in the vicinity of exhibits. Positions are determined with an accuracy of 1.5 meters, with no interconnected Wi-Fi infrastructure required.

Working together with Antenna, Fraunhofer's awiloc technology is already in use at several German museums, for example the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum (HNF) in Paderborn, the Haus der Geschichte Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart and Nuremberg's Museum für Industriekultur. And more museum projects are now underway in London, Munich, Vienna and other cities.  So this really could be the year for this technology to come of age...watch this space for more research on this area.

More to come…

There are seemingly more tech companies entering this field every month.  In 2012, Wifarer launched their indoor mapping technology at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It works with a location’s existing WiFi infrastructure. And Nextome offers a dedicated indoor navigation and localization system, for spaces that are not covered by a GPS signal. Netome uses technologies with very low electromagnetic pollution and low energy consumption and claim to be environmentally friendly.  A prototype system already installed in the Diocesan Museum of Bisceglie.

So this really could be the year for this technology to come of age...watch this space for more research on this area.

- author