Navizon, well-known for its databases and services related to positioning via GPS, cell towers and Wi-Fi access points outdoors, has moved indoors. Directions Magazine interviewed Cyril Houri, CEO and founder, and Carlos Machado, business development, to learn about the options and challenges.
Directions Magazine (DM): What does Navizon consider a “custom map”? Is it simply “location centric” or is there more to it?
Cyril Houri and Carlos Machado (Navizon): The term "map" is very generic; it can have lots of different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Let's assume that by "map" we mean the data used by Navizon to provide location services on a given site, just as a paper map is a graphical depiction of that site.
A "Navizon custom map" is a location-centric collection of data, i.e. a database that describes a specific site. That database enables a Navizon product to determine device locations throughout that site.
For example, in the case of Navizon Indoors, our software-based solution, the database is a collection of "fingerprints" of ambient radio signals. In the case of Navizon I.T.S., our hardware-based solution, the database is the collection of physical "node" locations--i.e. their latitude and longitude--at the site.
DM: Navizon offers two indoor positioning solutions for businesses. One, Navizon Indoors, uses existing Wi-Fi signals and requires an initial “site survey” to create a map of signals. A second one, the Indoor Triangulation System (I.T.S.) uses Navizon “nodes” to track Wi-Fi-enabled devices and all Wi-Fi tags. What are the differences between the two solutions? How do you guide customers in selecting the best one for their needs? Can you give examples of the types of users of each?
Navizon: Navizon Indoors was designed for mobile apps to obtain their location, enabling navigation and way-finding. The mobile app takes a snapshot of the ambient radio signals it senses, and requests a server to look it up in a database of signal "fingerprints” created by performing a site survey. Navizon Indoors requires (i) a mobile app running on the mobile device, (ii) strong ambient signals to create a robust database, (iii) a site survey to build the database of "fingerprints,” and (iv) the cloud-based server that performs the database lookup and estimates the corresponding location.
Figure 1. Beacons detect Wi-Fi signals from devices.
Navizon I.T.S. (Indoor Triangulation System) is a real-time locating system (RTLS) designed to determine the location of active Wi-Fi devices throughout an area of interest, enabling real-time tracking. Navizon I.T.S. requires (i) hardware ("nodes") deployed throughout the site to detect devices with active Wi-Fi radios, and (ii) the cloud-based server that determines devices' locations relative to the nodes. (See Figures 1 and 2.) Note that the tracked devices are not required to connect to Navizon I.T.S. or to run an app, which is ideal for iOS devices since it is not possible to run an app in the background on these devices.
Customers' requirements dictate which product is the right one for their needs. For example, those developing mobile apps for navigation in stores and shopping centers are most likely to find Navizon Indoors the best alternative. The reason is simple: no need to install hardware.
Figure 2. The complete I.T.S. system
On the other hand, customers interested in tracking the whereabouts of people and/or assets throughout a site are most likely to leverage Navizon I.T.S. For instance, imagine analyzing the flow of customers throughout a store: At what time do they come in? Through which door? How long do they stay? Where do they dwell? How long do they stand in line at the cashier/wrap? Do they stop by endcaps displaying new merchandise? What sections of the store do they visit? Are they first-time customers or repeat customers? How often do they show up? Do they always visit the same departments? These are the kinds of questions addressed by Navizon I.T.S. Other examples: tracking the whereabouts of medical equipment and personnel inside a hospital or creating time-based heat-maps of visitors to a trade show or corporate event.
In summary: Navizon I.T.S. typically provides raw data for real-time location and historical analysis of people and assets’ movement without requiring connectivity or a mobile app running on them. In addition, Navizon I.T.S. can also provide indoor navigation for mobile apps, if needed.
DM: Businesses who use I.T.S. indoor positioning load their floor plans into the system and locate the nodes on them. With such a map can you ask, say, to map only people on the second floor? Or in room 200? In short, how smart is the map?
Navizon: Yes, Navizon I.T.S. returns the latitude, longitude and level (basement, 1st floor, 2nd floor) of each and every device tracked. For multi-story buildings, clients simply load multiple floor plans and stack them on top of each other. In summary: Navizon I.T.S. provides location with room and floor-level accuracy.
Regarding "mapping people on the second floor" or "in room 200,” Navizon I.T.S. will determine the location of every active Wi-Fi device in the site, and the server output can be easily filtered by a querying application to consider only those devices in the specific room and/or level of interest.
DM: Individuals who download and install the Navizon app can "navigate indoors, through buildings, shopping malls, convention centers and airports.” Do you use Google’s base maps? If not, whose? Do you have a crowdsourced indoor mapping effort?
Navizon: Navizon app uses either Navizon Indoors or Navizon I.T.S. custom maps, when available at the site. It does not use indoor Google maps. We do not currently have a crowdsourced indoor mapping program. At the moment, it is DIY for every client.
DM: What are the current barriers to indoor positioning? How is Navizon working to overcome them?
Navizon: As expected from an emerging and rapidly evolving technology, there are a variety of approaches and few standards for indoor positioning. Among currently available technologies, Wi-Fi based systems are attractive, given that Wi-Fi is both mature and ubiquitous. Practically all major smartphones and tablets have Wi-Fi capabilities, enabling unobtrusive tracking of their signals as users offload their intensive data use to local Wi-Fi access, wherever available.
Aware that technology does not stand still, at Navizon we monitor for changes on the horizon that will complement, supplement or replace today's best options. We keep an eye on the competitive landscape and are poised to respond to these changes rapidly. We believe in adding value to our customers today and leveraging the new tomorrow. Our goal is to remain committed to providing a suite of products that are effective and affordable for the widest range of needs across many industries.