Beacons: A Better Idea For Indoor Wayfinding

August 19, 2014 by Dave Haynes


Interactive wayfinding directories absolutely have a role in helping people find their way around sprawling retail, health care, higher education and corporate campuses. But emerging technology is going to erode some of their core reasons for existing.

The directories are very good at telling people what’s there – through lookups and category sorting.

But they’re not all that good at getting people to where they want to go. You can get that cool little animation on a screen that tells you to walk over there, take this escalator up, turn right, turn left, and so on. Who can remember all that??? Not me, and I don’t think it’s just an age thing. To get from A to B in a large footprint facility, you may need to check in at multiple directories.

There are technologies out there that do turn by turn navigation indoors, using things like WiFi triangulation, to produce indoor mapping on smartphones. But they have their limits and have not really caught on.

But now we’re seeing tech that delivers on accurate navigation and then layers in mobile-driven contextual messaging. It’s built around Bluetooth Low Energy beacons, with the little, low-cost transmitters sending out identifiers that mobile apps pick up and respond to.

My strong suspicion is there are a few companies doing this sort of thing, but here’s an example of how a German company is applying the tech in a retail environment. Roomaps does indoor positioning with beacons and applies its own filtering technology to make positioning based on the data it gets from sensors. In the company’s demo scenario, it imagines how car buyers would move through a big Mercedes dealership, with beacons helping find the way and then lighting up messaging on a dedicated dealer or automaker app that showcases the product the person is looking at.

Could not embed video, so click here (warning: loud!):

You could argue pretty effectively that’s overkill, as a dealership is just not that hard to navigate and the SKUs are anything but endless. But think about much larger footprint places like malls, campuses or megastores. I was talking recently with someone about the need for wayfinding in a new retail store that was going to be a mind-wobbling 500,000 square feet. How the heck do you find stuff in something that big?

Wayfinding screens would be a start, but having a tool right on your phone – that wasn’t chewing up battery as GPS does (and would work inside) would be very helpful.

If you have ever been in an Ikea, think just how much you’d welcome a way to get you through that maze. I’m sure the Swedish maze is purposeful, but I’m also pretty sure there are people who don’t go to Ikea because of that. How abut a giant DIY store like Lowes?

So how does digital signage  relate?

1 – You need directories, no matter what. That lookup function is important as a start point and macro view of the facility.

2 – You need something driving awareness of tech that delivers indoor navigation, explains how it is used, and drives both downloads and activations. It’s one thing to have the dedicated app, but it’s early days and people will need to be reminded to turn it on.

Beacons are one of the five big topics at DSrupted next month. Speaker Doug Thompson is one of the top thinkers and doers in the emerging tech, and I’ve seen in registrations and emails a LOT of interest in what he’ll have to say.

If you want to hear him, you can get your ticket for the Sept. 17th event at 

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