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How will the way we navigate around our towns and shopping centres change in the next ten years?

How will the way we navigate around our towns and shopping centres change in the next ten years?

By João Fernandes, Founder and CEO of BuzzStreets

You’re on your way to a party – you need to stop off and get some wine, a bunch of flowers, and a dessert (you promised you’d supply the trifle!). You drive to the local shopping centre and breeze straight from your parking space to the wine merchant’s shop, then from there to the bakery, and finally to florist and straight back to your car and on to your friend’s house – all using your navigation app. It has taken you from your house, to the car park and an empty parking space, and then into the shopping centre to each store you needed, before finally taking you out again and on to your party.

This may sound far-fetched (and very attractive!) and the good news is, it’s already almost possible.

Of course, outdoor navigation technology matured years ago and now we all walk around with a detailed map of the world in our pockets. But what happens when you enter a building? The navigation drops out. That’s because map technology is enabled via GPS – satellite technology. And while that sounds cool and techie, in reality satellites are rubbish at picking up phone frequencies from within buildings.

Fortunately, solutions to this particular problem have already been developed. Most use Bluetooth beacons positioned around a building’s interior to ping a user’s mobile device, allowing an app to pinpoint the user’s location to within a few feet. Of course, there are more sensitive solutions which allow for centimetre-accurate positioning, but that’s usually overkill for something the size of a person.

These beacons are steadily becoming cheaper and more reliable, making them a cost-effective solution for most large and complex indoor environments, such as shopping centres, airports, and sports stadia. Every environment has its own unique technical challenges to be ironed out, however, meaning indoor navigation requires an expert consultancy rather than a DIY approach.

BuzzStreets, for example, is working on a number of pilot projects with hospitals, offices, and stadia to iron out these kinks, while Google is offering DIY indoor mapping without navigation features.

In the very near future, we will see the combination of these technologies, providing a quick and simple solution for businesses, building mamagers, and venues of any size. At this point, we will quickly reach a critical mass of businesses providing indoor navigation and the whole world will be navigable – indoors and out.  You’ll be able to go from your front door to the specific room, that you need to be in, within the building you are visiting. Navigation will take you all the way – not just to the outside door by reception.  

The evolution of indoor experiences

Indoor navigation isn’t just about getting people from A to B, however; it’s about the journey and experience as you make that trip from one place to the next.

Indoor environment – particularly commercial spaces like shopping malls – will need to change in order to continue to attract shoppers and fend off the growing ecommerce sector. To do this, shopping malls and individual stores will offer shopping experiences.

Imagine going into a shopping mall and seeing marine animals swimming through the air, with games and news appearing on virtual screens around you. As you approach your favourite craft beer shop you can already see whether they have the Spanish beer you wanted before receiving a special discount code. As you step inside the lighting changes and your favourite band plays softly in the corner.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a sci-fi vision. BuzzStreets has already been playing around with augmented reality (AR) ideas such as these to offer shoppers a rich, immersive environment to explore.

When handsfree, wearable devices become the mainstream, this futuristic vision will become a reality. Until then, we will still need to use our smartphones and tablets as a window to this world.

The dawn of deep data

Data has become a catch-word over the last few years. It’s BIG, it drives things, and everyone wants a piece of it. It’s been accused of swinging elections and found to help cure cancer. It’s the new oil.

And anonymous navigation data, especially indoor data, holds a great power: the ability to transform the world.

Sound a bit grandiose? It really isn’t. For thousands of years we’ve been improving our transport systems, our public services, healthcare, and everything else, through a combination of guesswork and the scientific method. Results are slow to come and never seem to capture the whole picture.

With a global population of over 7,000,000,000 people and rising, the world can’t wait for the results of a five-year trial before making important changes. The world is too complex and fast-moving for that traditional approach. Gathering data in real-time allows us to put our theories to the test, develop new models, and make useful changes quickly and accurately.

How do people move around the shopping centre? What route do they take to get there? Where does the mall get the highest footfall? When are people most likely to buy food – is it really just at lunchtime? Why are people visiting your department store? If they are visiting your retail warehouse to buy wine – how to they move about and are there sections they miss?

Data can help answer all of these questions and many more. Businesses can optimise their environments to improve the user experience, save money, and change our lives.

The same approach can also be applied to inanimate objects, such as equipment. If you need a specialist piece of equipment, but it’s not where it should be, location data can help you track it down. Perhaps you find that some equipment is regularly moving long distances through the building, in which case perhaps it would save time and money to buy a second machine.

There are almost infinite ways in which the data gathered by navigation software could be used to improve our lives. The only limit is our imagination.

About the Author

JoãoFernandes is the Founder and CEO of BuzzStreets, a B2B navigation and location-based services solution. We combine indoor and outdoor navigation with technologies such as augmented reality and proximity-triggered offers, to create a bespoke solution for customer engagement. The analytics the solution can also be invaluable in improving building efficiency and keeping track of vital equipment. Particular verticals that could benefit from BuzzStreets include: Shopping Malls, Stadiums, Hospitals, Airports and Offices.

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