A company works to perfect indoor navigation

A hospital, the shopping mall, or even your house – just some of the indoor places people may soon be able to navigate with satellite maps. A company in San Antonio, Texas is working to perfect indoor navigation using the earth’s electromagnetic field.


A hospital, a shopping mall, or even your house -- just some of the indoor places people may soon be able to navigate with satellite maps.

A company in San Antonio, Texas, is working to perfect indoor navigation using the Earth's electromagnetic field.

Take a look.

The reason for indoor positioning is GPS signals don't work indoors.

So when you're outside, you can get a GPS signal, you have a line of sight to the satellites, and you can get about 30-feet accuracy.

When you come indoors, you can no longer see the satellites, so you lose any kind of reference to satellites.

We developed a way to get indoor positioning using magnetic fields and Wi-Fi signals.

And by combining the two, we can actually resolve to a much better answer using the two signals.

The access points are all over in most commercial buildings and even homes.

You can see about 50 access points from all your neighbors.

So you can actually utilize all these broadcasts that are coming off these emitters for triangulation, and that's how we develop our technology towards those two ambient signals that are already in existence.

So our solution doesn't require any infrastructure be installed, and that's one of the great things about our solution right now.

Garza explains his indoor-mapping technology has many applications, ranging from on-site asset management to safety.

And all the mapping data is acquired by this sophisticated indoor-mapping robot.

So, one of the things I want to show you, Chris, is a lot of the technology that's actually tied into this robot to do these very accurate surveys.

One of the things we have here is we have three antennas, and those antennas are actually used to receive all the signals from the access points, the Wi-Fi access points.

These antennas are pretty specialized, so they're not your run-of-the-mill antennas.

We actually had them developed for us, so they have a very evenly distributed receive field because of the measurements we use.

So those are a little expensive, the specialized antennas.

The other thing we have on here -- and it's a little hard to see because they're so small -- the MEMS magnetic, magnetic sensors, are these little red printed circuit boards.

And those are very small but very sensitive.

We're able to measure one microtesla at a time.

Not sure that means anything to you, but it's a very small measurement of magnetic fields, so we have that kind of resolution.

And then, additionally, as part of the navigation system that we have here, is we have the lidar.

So this lidar is actually scanning very, very fast, and it's actually taking measurements of all the walls very, very fast -- and about 200 hertz.

And then, also, we have this red box over here.

That's the inertial-measurement unit, and that's the one that I was talking about aircraft have, that it tells you the pitch, roll, and yaw of the platform itself, and we can tie the laser data with the inertial-measurement data to tell you exactly where those lasers were pointing at that specific point in time.

And then, additionally, some of the stuff we have down here is typical for most robotic platforms.

We have motor controllers.

So these motor controllers drive the motors forward, backward, sideways, left and right, and it's actually got a process center to calculate how much torque and all that stuff that needs to be put into the motors, as well.

And then one of the last things that we have on the robot is obviously a lot of processing power, so inside this chassis here is probably about four computers.

We have three ARM processors that are running in parallel, and then we also have what they call an 'embedded single board computer,' and it's basically like what you would find in a four-core laptop, like a Core i7.

It's basically that but much smaller, and it's embedded into the chassis, so this robot actually has a lot of processing power, probably about twice as much as most laptops nowadays.

One of the neat things about this robot is that we have a Web controller, so we can drive it using the Web, Web interface, or we can also drive it using the standard remote controller.

One of the things I wanted to show you was the wheels.

The wheels have rollers on them.

They're pretty specialized, and they're called Mecanum wheels.

The reason that makes them special is this robot can actually go sideways.

So, one of the things we do, once we map the building and survey the building, is we have to process the data to match the data to the floor map that we've created.

And so we've developed a tool that helps us do that, and one of the tools that we use is actually embedded into Google Earth.

That helps us visualize how the data is actually correlated to the Earth in latitude and longitude.

And as you could here, we have the floor plan that we developed from the Geekdom seventh floor.

I want to thank Geekdom, actually, for letting us use their space.

And you can see all these little dots here is where the robot has actually traversed the space, and those are all the individual positions that we've actually collected data.

And what we do, once everything is lined up here, the next phase we do is actually take all this data, run our algorithms on it, and develop what we call 'signature databases.'

What does Garza see as the future of this indoor mapping technology?

So, I could see this becoming more universal, where almost all public spaces will have this kind of technology, and you'll be able to navigate, especially in a hospital.

Like, 'I need to go make a doctor's appointment.

Let me go see the foot doctor on the seventh floor.'

You open up your app.

You say, 'Doctor X. Navigate.'

And the system will say, 'Hey, you got to get on this elevator, go up six floors.

You get out here, hang a right.

You go down 10 meters, hang a left, and there's the doctor's office.'

That's where it's going.