For solutions determining which store in a shopping mall a user is in, or which booth in a conference a user is near, or which exhibition at a museum a user is viewing, positioning within several meters may be sufficient. But for solutions tracking whether a customer is standing in front of the pretzels or the chips in a supermarket, or which patient in a hospital ward a nurse is checking, or other similar applications, accuracy within less than a meter is necessary.
This report analyzes and reports on indoor location positioning that determines location to within less than one meter. The technologies reported use a wide variety of approaches, and include both software-based and hardware-based solutions.
In the eight months since the previous version of this report was published, we have seen a growth in the number of systems achieving sub-meter accuracy on smartphones. There has been particular growth in camera-based systems, which use computer vision technology to determine location or track motion. There has also been growth in sub-meter systems from major technology vendors. Hardware-based solutions have spread into new markets areas, such as Internet of Things devices.
While sub-meter accuracy differentiates these technologies from many others, the solutions reported here are themselves differentiated from each other in other ways. Some are implemented in software and some in hardware. Some require installed infrastructure and some do not. Some run on smartphones and some in dedicated devices. Some use lower power or less resources than others. Some position in 3D and some in 2D. Truly understanding these technologies is necessary to understand which can work in any given application.
The twenty five companies whose technologies are analyzed below are on the cusp of high accuracy indoor location technologies. These companies present the opportunity right now to deliver highly accurate location positioning indoors.
Summary Tables of Companies and Technologies
Indoor Location Positioning: Current State and Trends
Indoor Location Positioning Methods and Their Tradeoffs
Sub-Meter Indoor Location Positioning from Major Tech Vendors
(Analysis of sub-meter technology from two major companies)
Sub-Meter Indoor Location Positioning on Today's Smartphones
(18 pages detailing technology from 10 companies)
Sub-Meter Location Positioning Using Dedicated Hardware
(14 pages detailing tech from 13 companies)
Future Trends in Indoor Location
One of the key challenges in developing and deploying indoor location technology is clearly how accurate it is. Many indoor location systems, including those based on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals, are accurate only to within 5-8 meters. In many applications this is fine. If I want my phone to know what store or coffee shop I'm in, 5-8m accuracy is sufficient to distinguish Starbucks from JC Penny. But if I want my phone to know if I'm standing in front of the pretzels or the potato chips in the supermarket, I need better.
As a side point, GPS outdoors is only accurate to within 3.5 meters or more, at least in its mobile device form. But when you're driving with your favorite GPS app, the app will do what's called "snap to road" to make the location positioning appear a lot more accurate than it is. This is why, for example, if your planned route is to exit the highway, and you choose to stay on the highway instead, your phone will think you've taken the exit until your position on the highway is sufficiently far from the exit ramp. So when we talk about accuracy in indoor location technology being only 5 meters, this is roughly the same as GPS, it's just harder to fake (er, compensate) indoors.
A newly updated report analyzes technologies from 25 companies that achieve sub-meter accuracy, meaning that the location calculated by the system is within one meter of the actual location. A previous version of this report, from 7 months earlier, covered only 17 companies, so the number of companies achieving this high level of accuracy is going up as the technology in the area matures.
Only two of the systems profiled in this report use the "standard" indoor location approaches such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth/BLE and motion sensing. It's simply very hard to get systems based on these technologies down to one meter accuracy, because of inherent challenges in estimating distance based on radio signal strength. Besides the two companies that succeeded using these approaches, virtually all those achieving sub-meter accuracy used other approaches.
The biggest change between the previous report and the newly updated report is the number of technologies that are based on cameras. Some companies are comparing the scenes seen by a device's camera to a database of scenes around a venue to see which location best matches what the device is seeing. Other companies use the running video stream from a device camera to plot the device's movement by measuring the changes in the scene. Camera-based approaches to indoor location used to be esoteric, but they are now increasingly achieving good results.
Many new systems, particularly industrial approaches that track tags instead of tracking smartphones, are using UWB. Unlike Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, UWB radio is engineered to enable much more accurate location and distance measurement. UWB-based indoor location systems started to reach market at the end of 2013, and more and more are coming out each month.
Finally, many of the systems delivering sub-meter accuracy, particularly on smartphones, are using new and innovative approaches. Some use entirely new methods of measuring radio signals, while others use innovative and esoteric kinds of signals that can be measured on smartphones. These are true areas of innovation, which are exciting technically and are more and more delivering great results.
Again, there is more to indoor location than sub-meter accuracy. Some approaches target tracking smartphones passively, regardless of the accuracy. Some approaches target low infrastructure cost and effort, at the expense of accuracy. Some are designed to self-learn a new environment, to enable universal applicability. But for those who need high accuracy, there are more and more sub-meter accuracy systems reaching market.
Is the day coming soon where apps will help hundreds of millions of people get around malls, stores, exhibitions, museums, office complexes, and other sites, as they do outside now? For those applications requiring accuracy, we're getting closer every month.