Demand for indoor positioning solutions is growing tremendously, and a wide array of different technologies are on offer. But with all the different options available, how can one find the best indoor positioning solution? Ultimately, it all depends on the requirements set by the application and purpose of the solution.
Positioning is a familiar phenomenon to most of us, thanks to, for example, the GPS satellite positioning system and its numerous application areas. Currently developing in leaps and bounds is indoor positioning, which, as the name implies, means locating a person or object in indoor spaces.
Indoor positioning can enhance safety
In the world of business, the potential of various indoor positioning solutions is significant: for example, in the manufacturing industry, indoor positioning can be used to improve productivity and bring safety to a new level, among other things.
Like traditional positioning, indoor positioning leans on a host of physical phenomena and estimation methods, which companies have used to develop a wide range of technology solutions. Every positioning technology has its good sides, but also its challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for indoor positioning: the best technology always depends on the requirements.
At this point, it’s a good idea to underscore two concepts that are key in indoor positioning: a locator is a base station whose location is known in advance. The locator’s job is to help locate a person or object equipped with a tag.
The tag’s location can either be calculated in the locator or the tag can calculate its own location. In the third option, the tag’s location is estimated with the help of cloud or edge computing based on data collected from the locators. With edge computing, data is not sent to the cloud, which may be located very far away; instead, a local computer does the computing.
It is important to decide where this calculation takes place. Let’s take the manufacturing industry as an example: a factory has 2,000 tools and work vehicles to be located, and the aim is to keep track of their locations.
It would hardly make sense to locate them such that each individual tag calculates its own location and sends the information to the cloud. Although technically this would be possible, the devices to be installed in the tools and vehicles would be expensive and large; in addition to which they would consume a lot of electricity and be costly to maintain.
A considerably more sensible solution would be to equip the objects to be located with small and durable tags. The locator would then collect data from the tags and send it to the cloud, where the locations would be calculated.
Requirements dictate the indoor positioning solution
Another essential aspect is the accuracy requirements pertaining to indoor positioning. Is it enough just to have a general idea of which area or section of the factory the object to be located is in? Or should it be possible to determine the location within an accuracy of a few meters or even centimeters? Accuracy requirements down to the centimeter may, in the future, pertain to, for instance, preventing autonomous robots from colliding into other objects.
The scale of the positioning also varies according to the intended use: sometimes global positioning is required, sometimes positioning within a city, a single building or maybe even a specific room inside the building is sufficient. Decisive factors may also be the technology, product development, manufacturing and maintenance costs. Furthermore, safety factors or legal limitations (e.g. protection of privacy) may pose their own limits on the use of a certain technology.
As the examples above confirm, when seeking a suitable indoor positioning solution, the requirements determines the technology. Based on the requirements, the physical laws and methods that can be used must be considered, and the solutions that are smartest from a business perspective must still be determined.
The diagram below provides a good indication of the scope and complexity of the indoor positioning phenomenon.