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IndoorAtlas has begun to deliver its service that lets you navigate inside enclosed buildings such as shopping malls.

IndoorAtlas' IPS app can find a mall bathroom.

Above: IndoorAtlas’ IPS app can find a mall bathroom.

Image Credit: IndoorAtlas

The Palo Alto, California-based company, which was founded in Finland, launched a private beta test in San Francisco for its “indoor positioning system,” or IPS, which lets you navigate to find specific stores, brands, products, promotions, and your friends. The navigation is a big deal because retailers say they lose 15 percent of sales because consumers cannot find the store or the product they’re looking for.

I saw a demo of the service inside the Westfield San Francisco Centre, a multistory mall in San Francisco. I started out at Bloomingdale’s and made my way to a Godiva chocolate shop, and the navigation worked precisely and continuously.

Using the standalone IPS app, shoppers can now find the exact locations of specific products at multiple locations and then be guided to the last meter to find them. I searched on items such as men’s watches and was directed to different stores that offered them in the mall. We also found a restroom, which is the most frequently requested location at a mall. The directions were accurate, showing me a path around various obstacles among the Bloomingdale’s displays.

The service works only indoors and is a complement to global positioning systems (GPS), which use a network of satellites for fixing locations. By contrast, IndoorAtlas built a system based on the way that sea creatures such as lobsters and turtles navigate the oceans.

IndoorAtlas can find a chocolate shop at the mall.

Above: IndoorAtlas can find a chocolate shop at the mall.

Image Credit: IndoorAtlas

“We believe the IPS app will change the way people get around indoors, just like GPS did for outdoors,” said Janne Haverinen, CEO and founder of IndoorAtlas. “Our patented technology accurately determines positions within a wide range of indoor use cases like shopping malls, airports, museums, hospitals, hotels and more. Today’s beta release at the Westfield San Francisco Centre will be the first of many commercial spaces that leverage proximity awareness to deliver a superior experience to the visitor.”

IPS uses the core IndoorAtlas magnetic positioning technology and a smartphone compass to detect anomalies in the Earth’s magnetic fields. The company said the magnetic positioning works in every building with steel girders, to an accuracy of one to two meters. That makes it possible to do accurate indoor navigation, location-aware mobile search, location-based advertising, and online-to-offline commerce. This magnetic solution eliminates the need for cumbersome, expensive, hard-to-maintain external infrastructures such as beacons, routers, or radio access points via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

At the Westfield San Francisco mall, shoppers can get their exact location, paths to any place in the mall, product search results for categories from men’s belts to women’s dresses, and brand searches for specific brands such as Kate Spade or Hugo Boss. It also has a feature dubbed Buddy Finder. If your friend gives you permission, you can find where that person is in the mall and trace a path to reach them inside the building.

The app can’t yet tell which floor you are on in a multi-story building, however. You have to tell it which floor you are on.

Founded in 2012, IndoorAtlas already serves about 270 million users globally, thanks to a commercial rollout it did with Baidu in China. The company has 20 patents and more than 40 employees. It also signed a partnership with SK Planet in Seoul last week to enhance the O2O service, Syrup.

IndoorAtlas spun out of Oulu University in Finland. It has raised $14.5 million to date, including $10 million from Baidu. The IPS app is available on Android and iOS in a private beta in the U.S.

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