IPS is like GPS’s more accurate indoor cousin

Even though most people don't understand how GPS works, we continue to rely on it and appreciate the role it plays in our lives. Global positioning enables mapping and direction programs like Google Maps to work, ensures goods reach us in a timely manner, and is used in nearly every technology currently using tracking, timing, positioning, or navigation. A similar, less well-known technology that uses more localized reference points, called indoor positioning systems (IPS), is also helping to map the interior of spaces.

What is the difference between GPS and IPS?

There's a reason why people talk about GPS when referring to IPS, so it helps to first understand how GPS works. Many countries have satellites orbiting the Earth specifically for GPS purposes. These satellites send and receive signals from objects on Earth and, on a very basic level, track the time and distance of that object between satellites. In the process, they created a map of objects, their relative positions and distances from each other, and the time it took for them to move.

GPS is difficult to use in space because the signal can be weakened by interference from buildings. Additionally, it is as accurate as GPS at 7 meters (22 feet). The 22 feet of space may not matter for the accuracy of a DoorDash delivery, but it can make a big difference when looking for a product in the aisles of Ikea or the correct room in a hospital. Since people need help navigating both indoors and outdoors, a more accurate system would help. This is where IPS comes in.

Similar to GPS, IPS uses smartphones and other smart devices as the tracked objects, and then uses Bluetooth, wifi, and any other possible indoor signals to measure the time and distance of the smart device from points in space. The more points it can track, the more accurate the IPS is.

People or objects can also be tagged using wearable tracking devices, such as NFC or RFID tags, making it easier to find someone or something. Imagine entering a confusing space, such as a hospital, and being given a visitor badge embedded with an NFC tag. An app that tracks the location of an NFC tag can guide you to the exact room you're looking for and display your location in real time as you walk through the hallways.

IPS is used everywhere you go

Although you may not have heard of IPS, it's likely that it's already being used in the places you visit. For example, in theme parks: Disney already uses IPS technology in its parks, as does Ferrari World . The hospital example above is more than just an example: Medical institutions like National Taiwan University Hospital have deployed IPS around the world to not only help patients find space, but also to track the patients themselves, including babies. Shopping centers such as London's Canary Wharf are another example. Airports, conference centers, zoos, large offices, and even underground transportation hubs such as subways can and already use IPS.

While IPS can be used to observe traffic patterns through an airport in real time, the accuracy provided by IPS can also help plan for better traffic flow in the future. For example, if data shows that people are congregating in one space of a store but not purchasing any products from that area, a manager can investigate possible issues and correct them. This data can help users navigate, but it can also be a powerful tool for businesses to manage the space themselves.