Indoor navigation is one of the last great technical problems that hasn’t been solved. Outdoor navigation can be tackled with satellite technology or cell phone triangulation. But those technologies can’t pinpoint somebody indoors.

But a crew of Finnish engineers have created a novel approach indoor positioning system (IPS) based on the earth’s magnetic field. They did so by studying homing pigeons and spiny lobsters and how they use cues from the magnetic fields, according to

The researchers have started their own company, Indoor Atlas, with seed capital to commercialize the technology. They are creating a smartphone app that uses magnetic fluctuations to map out locations inside buildings.

The company has spun off from the University of Oulu. The app allows people to tell exactly where they are. That can be very useful inside large buildings such as casinos in Las Vegas. The Finnish technology can also serve as a platform for other apps that need indoor functionality.

In a paper, the researchers said that some animals can sense their true position relative to their destination, since they can detect the direction of the earth’s magnetic field. Modern buildings with unique concrete and reinforced steel structures have spatially-varying ambient magnetic fields that can be used for positioning. Each building, floor and corridor creates a distinct magnetic field that can be used for positioning. That can be used to identify a location and create a map.

Janne Haverinen, the head of the project, said, “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.”

The accuracy is equivalent to 0.1 meters to 2 meters. If it works, it’s brilliant. The toolbox platform offers floor plans, map creator, and an app creator using the company’s applications programming interface. CSR is working on a different kind of indoor mapping technology.

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