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Exploring Indoor Positioning Systems for Construction

Posted by Dan Dolinar on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 @ 07:03 AM
Dan Dolinar
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A sense of place and space is the main area of focus throughout the design and construction project phases. As you are well aware, there is a range of technologies allowing users to experience a space. For example, augmented reality technologies coupled with global position systems allow users to view physical, real world building environments with elements augmented by computer-generated sensory input (sound, video, graphics or global positioning (GPS) data. Virtual reality technologies allow users to interact with a project model prototype and test design prior to physical construction. However, once a building becomes enclosed as a result of physical construction, global position systems no longer works. In this post, we explore indoor positioning systems (IPS) as an option to pick up where GPS leaves off.

interior positioning system

An indoor positioning system (IPS) is a technology that locates objects or people inside a building using Wi-Fi access, magnetic fields, or other information collected from mobile devices. Compared to the global positioning system that is reliant on satellites for information, IPS uses nearby “anchors” to detect the location of an object or person.  Anchors look for mobile devices and provides relevant informant about the location or environment back to the device. Ultimately, IPS is designed to deliver useful locator services that pick up where GPS is not able to go. 

Construction could benefit from this emerging technology. Mobile devices that automatically know a user’s location in a building could make it easier to get the right information to the right people on the jobsite. For the location to be meaningful for navigation or other purposes, project stakeholders would need to have an accurate indoor project model or map in order to experience the following benefits:

  • Orient the team to the physical building;
  • Tag a location with task status information;
  • Compare model to physical construction;
  • Understand what is behind a wall;
  • Link to technical information.

IPS Challenges

Even though IPS systems identify the location, there needs to be more information to determine which direction an object or individual is facing. Therefore, the ability to provide directions is challenging.  Additional technologies need to be applied, like an electronic compass, to sense orientation.

You will find that a variety of solutions are needed to successfully work in design and construction environment.  It is for that reason mobile devices need to able to support and switch between more than one positioning solution or application. A majority of today’s mobile phones use GPS while outdoors. However, when moved inside, Wi-Fi is activate but with a much weaker signal.

QR Codes and Augmented Reality

Right now, QR codes and augmented reality are active project surrogates to IPS. Quick Response (QR) and Augmented Reality (AR) extend the use of a tablet device or smart phone in the field. You can affix a QR code to any tangible object (building), to allow anyone who scans that code to access any information the team members associate with it.  Using mobile devices to read these codes also work together with augmented reality applications to access active jobsite information.

Today’s tech firms are actively working to overcome some of the IPS challenges to serve as a navigational aid for hospitals and large retail malls. Once perfected, the system will create a range of new ways to connect people. Until that time, it may be best to stick with QR codes and augmented reality.

Topics: Augmented Reality, Construction Technology, Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS)