Is Lack of Information Access Getting Between You and Your Customers?

Published March 24, 2021

How much of your budget would you say goes to helping customers find their way around? How disability friendly is your business? How important is capturing this market?

Depending on the source, there are between 12.7% (PDF) and 26% of the U.S. population who live with a disability. People with disabilities often employ alternative ways to best get around independently. For example, someone who is blind might benefit from a verbal description of their surroundings, including layout of the building and where important items are located. People with mobility impairments, whether they use an aid like a wheelchair or simply must have more access to resting spots, benefit from knowledge about the size of spaces like hallways and doors, the existence of steps, escalators and elevators, and the availability of places to rest or to get additional information and assistance.

Obstacles to an accessible building

Work in this field over the past 25 years has revealed three major impediments to the convenient and popular use of accessible indoor navigation applications:

  1. A tedious and time-consuming mapping process,
  2. The lack of interoperability among buildings, and
  3. Limited positioning accuracy.

The elusive quest to provide reliable accurate indoor wayfinding is finally becoming a reality with today’s indoor navigation technologies. From basic orientation to step-by-step directions, indoor navigation technology is giving people with disabilities the means to discover and explore the built environment confidently and independently. By combining emerging digital indoor maps, camera-based positioning, and identifying like-minded organizations/businesses that understand the importance of indoor maps for navigation as well as for asset tracking and even contact tracing, we step beyond the mediocre Bluetooth beacon technology of the past five years to a cheaper more accurate mapping and positioning system.

History of indoor positioning

If you have used an app inside a store to find a product, or in the airport to get to your departure gate, you have used indoor positioning. Positioning accuracy has been improved over the years through many trials and tribulations while different companies experimented with different technologies. In 2012, Google experimented with Wi-Fi hotspots, Nokia attempted a Bluetooth triangulation, Broadcom developed a chip that uses Near Field Communication (NFC), NaviSens revived dead reckoning technology, some have even experimented with Infrared and “acoustic analysis”. Unfortunately, none of these solutions proved to be operational; Wi-Fi by itself is prone to inaccuracy and depends on wireless infrastructure, NaviSens has not updated operations since 2012, and Nokia and Broadcom have exited this arena. Despite these challenges, various mainstream companies, Apple, Google and others, are still striving to solve this puzzle.

Asset-tracking companies have been using Ultra-wideband (UWB) for years to accurately (10-30 cm) locate items. Indoor mappers have been using LiDAR to capture accurate models of indoor spaces. Apple has released the iPhone 11 devices with built in UWB, and most recently the iPhone 12 devices incorporating LiDAR cameras, it appears that this technology will begin to grow in ubiquity. It remains to be seen how operational UWB and LiDAR in Apple devices will be, but the initial speculations are very positive. The most promising positioning is a combination of camera-based positioning, LiDAR, Bluetooth, Augmented Reality kits, and other positioning technologies.

Emerging positioning technology

Camera-based techniques provide two to three-foot level accuracy, 6 Degree-of-Freedom positioning that is well beyond the accuracy of other methods. From a single image, position and orientation can each be calculated without the need for equipment. And unlike GPS, it works both indoors and outdoors.

Benefits

  • Improving accessibility without infrastructure or building modification allows for a fast, easy, and inexpensive system implementation.
  • Quickly orient new customers, staff and service providers to your building.
  • Welcome customers across the ability spectrum and make your building more accessible and inviting
  • Minimize staff resources needed for accessibility
  • Make visits/tours more accessible and streamlined

Efficient mapping

The emerging streamlined mapping process consists of three steps. First, the information about the building needs to be quickly collected via LiDAR and camera imaging in a standardized format. Second, that information needs to be securely and easily maintained by the building owner. And finally, that non-sensitive information needs to be published so that it can be accessed by anyone who can benefit from more information about their environment. There are various companies that have streamlined this process, but only one that builds these maps with accessibility in mind. That company is GoodMaps, headquartered in Louisville Kentucky, whose goal is to develop mapping technology that makes creating accessible environments faster, more accurate, and cost effective for venue owners.

Camera-based mapping

Camera-based mapping is an efficient process that involves walking through an indoor space with a LiDAR scanner that simultaneously takes 360-degree images, laser measurements and video footage. The LiDAR scanner will send out pulses of light to determine the distance to objects that are in the surrounding space. The data and captured images are converted into 3D point cloud images that capture the walls, floors, ceilings, and any other objects that are present during the scan in 3 dimensions. The next step is to take cross sections of the 3D point cloud, one for each floor, and produce an overhead view to generate a very accurate and to scale 2D floor plan.

Once the 2D floor plan is generated, a process that used to take days, the rooms, spaces, and
Points of Interest (POIs) can be labeled. GoodMaps Studio provides a customer portal where venue owners can access and manage their digital maps. GoodMaps Studio gives venue owners the control over user access by creating role-based permissions. This means, for example, that an owner can allow first responders to see more of a building's layout than the public if an owner wishes. The GoodMaps portal provides secure authorization and login capabilities for each user. Owners decide what information and how much information each user can access.

Benefits of indoor mapping

To address the lack of interoperability among buildings, there needs to be a standardized format for the mapping data that can be accessed in an open database. Since the cost to map a building would need to be justified, it is important to outline the benefits of creating indoor maps for your business.

1. A familiar place is welcoming

Maps make it easy for someone to quickly familiarize themselves with your business. Many large retailers, like Target and Home Depot have invested significant resources in mapping their stores because it makes business sense to help their customers easily find products in the store. Creating an enjoyable experience for your customers increases the likelihood that they will return. Creating indoor maps also makes it easier for your new employees to get up to speed faster, which increases productivity.

2. Accessibility for all

Access to information can be a game changer for people with disabilities. A 2017 study, provided quantitative evaluations showing that indoor navigation can cut the time required for people who are blind or visually impaired to navigate unfamiliar indoor spaces by 30-50% and cut the associated distance walked by more than 50% in most cases (PDF).

3. Emergency Preparedness

By implementing maps, you can be more prepared in case of an emergency situation. Provide your local fire department access to your mapping data to determine where the emergency is located, how to infiltrate and effectively evacuate the building. Without digital maps first responders have very little indoor special information to rely on. Accurate emergency planning can help prevent building damage and loss of life and instead, facilitate efficient and effective egress.

GoodMaps

GoodMaps is an indoor mapping and accessibility company focused on providing fully accessible and inclusive navigation experiences. GoodMaps is about enabling independence and facilitating navigation for anyone – whether blind, deaf, mobility impaired, or those just wanting the most efficient route in and out. GoodMaps’ mission is to make the indoors more accessible, welcoming, and safe by using LiDAR, AR/MR, and machine vision to revolutionize indoor mapping and navigation.

Learn more about GoodMaps

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