Article originally posted at Grid Dynamics Blog

AR-based Indoor Navigation

It is well known that GPS sensors don’t always provide accurate location information. This is especially the case when inside buildings that block clear line of sight to the satellites that calculate your position. Signals that do enter buildings through windows are often unreliable and can produce location errors up to hundreds of meters. This is why an entirely different technology solution is required in order to provide accurate directions to indoor locations.

Where to use indoor navigation

Indoor navigation can be useful in various environments and applications including:

  • Shopping malls and large stores: Turn-by-turn directions in stores can be particularly helpful as it can lead customers and employees to specific products, which allows use for collecting useful marketing data. With this information, you can make popular items or stores easier to find, or even reconfigure the store layout based on behavior.
  • Hospitals: Hospitals often have multiple departments and sections spread across multiple floors or even multiple buildings. As people tend to visit hospitals infrequently, indoor navigation can be extremely helpful in finding specific locations they are trying to find for the first time.
  • Airports: Today’s international airports are enormous, sprawling structures that can be miles across. When people have limited time to reach flights, having turn based navigation can help people move to gates far more quickly and efficiently.
  • University campuses: Virtual objects can be attached to specific positions in campus buildings to help students, guests, and building managers alike.

Frameworks

Indoor navigation solutions overview

There are several approaches that can be taken to implement Indoor navigation. We’ve presented a review of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach:

Beacon and Wi-Fi RTT based indoor navigation

Beacon technology is a current buzzword when it comes to indoor navigation. The most common example is the 2,000 battery-powered Bluetooth Low Energy beacons installed at Gatwick airport in the UK which gives, as claimed, +/-3 metre accuracy.

Built-in mobile sensors

This solution relies on built-in mobile sensors that can provide users with an estimated value based on an interpretation of the electromagnetic field in the immediate area around the user.

AR Cloud with visual world saving

The next two solutions are based on augmented reality technology. The cloud solution provided by Google allows adding virtual objects to an AR scene. Multiple users can then view and interact with these objects simultaneously from different positions in a shared physical space. The position of the location around which the world is anchored is saved to the cloud. In this case, what is meant by “the world” is images that are taken from the camera view.

  • This solution only works with a stable network connection.
  • The identica (not unique) environment can cause inaccurate results.

Visual Markers — AR-based indoor navigation

GD Navigator App

Admin Mode

1. Create visual markers

In this GD Navigator example, the images are room signs. Each image has its own unique name to make it clear to the user.

2. Create the routes

User Mode

Difficulties

Creating an AR experience depends on being able to construct a coordinate system for placing objects in a virtual 3D world that maps to the real-world position and motion of the device. When you run a session configuration, ARKit/ARCore creates a scene coordinate system based on the position and orientation of the device. Any objects you create or that the AR session detects are positioned relative to that coordinate system. It means that coordinate systems in different sessions are also different. Thus, we don’t know how much the direction of the coordinate axes has changed between two different AR sessions.

Conclusion

After encountering various technical challenges, we now have a fully functioning application that can provide turn-by-turn navigation to any room on one of our office floors. This tool can be highly valuable to our newcomers and guests as they can locate rooms faster and more easily, while not needing to seek the assistance of a stranger.

Demo video

We have a demo that demonstrates the features described above. Check out the video, and see how useful augmented reality apps will be for shoppers!

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