I personally think that GPS technology is possibly the greatest invention ever, since it has saved me weeks of wandering around in circles. The only problem is that it might not work if you're in a large building (like your local megamall) or underground (driving through Boston’s underground highway, for instance).
Finnish researchers from the University of Oulu (who founded their own company named IndoorAtlas) may have a solution with an indoor positioning system (IPS) that uses the Earth’s magnetic field to figure out exactly where you are. It might sound too cool to be true, but the research is already being adapted into a product that your smartphone can use to create indoor maps and IPS-powered apps.
The idea behind the technology is to use your smartphone's magnetometer, which powers your phone's digital compass, to identify your location no matter where you are.
Compasses can be useless in an urban setting because all the metallic structures that throw the Earth’s smooth magnetic field out of whack. IPS, however, doesn't use your digital compass to derive which way is north. Instead, it uses the phone’s magnetometer to map these magnetic disturbances to produce a digital representation of a building's floor plan.
According to IndoorAtlas, any phone with a built in magnetometer will be able to produce these maps, which are accurate down to 10 centimeters. The plan is to let users upload the data to an Internet-based mapping service (such as Google Maps) that you could explore online or download when you arrive at a location with a magnetic field map.
IndoorAtlas is also working on tools for developers who want to create apps that react to your indoor location. Think of it as reverse Foursquare, where a store greets you instead of you having to check-in.
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