New Indoor Navigation Startup Uses Disruption Of Earth's Geomagnetic Field From Buildings

    While the homing pigeon is known for navigating back home over long distances, some other animals, such as the spiny lobster, are able to do the same on a more local level. Research has given some idea that these animals are able to derive positional information from cues that arise from the local anomalies of the Earth’s magnetic field. With an accurate compass in every iPhone and Android device, a team of Engineers from the University of Oulu in Finland have created a new breed of indoor positioning technology that does not require WiFi or other beacons, but instead provides a major update to one of Man’s oldest navigating technologies.

    Using signal processing technology, the university team discovered that steel masses inside buildings twist the Earth’s magnetic field such that every spot produces a unique pattern. “Each building, floor and corridor creates a distinct magnetic field disturbance that can be measured to identify a location and generate a map,” explains Dr. Janne Haverinen, the head of the project.

    The team realized the practical potential of their findings. To provide a practical solution to be used by smartphone application developers, Dr. Haverinen’s research team has founded IndoorAtlas Ltd to commercialize the innovation. Along with the launch, the company also announces a seed capital investment from the Helsinki-based Vigo accelerator, KoppiCatch.

    While indoor location-awareness applications could be used for store promotions, mobile gaming, logistics efficiency, or just finding one’s way around inside shopping centers, airport terminals, the technology also brings handheld indoor positioning to areas where it was previously impractical. IndoorAtlas has run experiments in tunnels located 1400 meters below the surface in the Pyhäsalmi copper and zinc mine in central Finland. There it was able to accurately position using mineral deposits and other anomalies that disrupted the magnetic field.

    The accuracy in IndoorAtlas’ technology in modern buildings ranges from 0.1 meter to 2 meters. The technology does not require any additional hardware on the phone, and can work accurately alone or in parallel with current indoor positioning systems for even greater detail.

    Before indoor positioning information can be used on a smartphone, developers need to collect magnetic field information and overlay the information with a floor plan. To do so, developers must create an image of the location’s floor plan, and then walk through the location while collecting data. IndoorAtlas seems to have made these steps easy, however, by providing online toolkits.

    In the Nordic region, we’ve been covering the likes of Walkbase and Qubulus, who have developed their own indoor positioning solutions based off of accurately positioning through WiFi networks. Both of these companies are providing interesting solutions, but IndoorAtlas easily earns points for tackling the problem from a new angle.

    “When iPhone and Android phones arrived with built-­in compasses, we realized that we could develop an innovative indoor navigation solution by applying our digital signal-­processing expertise,” continues Dr. Haverinen. “Until now, it has been necessary to install Wi-Fi networks or other beacons inside buildings for location­‐based services. With our software, however, mobile apps can locate a mobile phone user in the building by utilizing nature’s infrastructure, the Earth’s magnetic field.”

    This video explains more about the entire IndoorAtlas solution: