With the recent break-up of one of my favorite bands, R.E.M., I am reminded of their song, Can't Get There From Here. Often, when I hit a busy large airport, and they are getting busier and larger all the time, getting to where I want to go can be a challenge. The thought of having a Sat-Nav service on my phone to tell me how to get to where I am trying to go, inspired a recent project in SITA Lab. This is a follow-on effort to the projects done on general passenger geolocation (see here and here).
The use of GPS navigation in cars is now quite ubiquitous around the world, and we have been researching how this could be done inside an airport using a smartphone. As GPS signals are difficult, if not impossible to receive inside an airport, we looked at using WiFi to determine a traveler's location and guiding him to the desired location.
Below is a short video explaining a bit about the project.
We learned quite a bit during this project about the technology and current state of play. Charles de Gaulle airport recently launched a navigation app, and there are many similar efforts for venues like malls, casinos, and sporting stadiums. We did this on the Android platform because of legal restrictions on Apple iPhones that prevent the iPhone apps from accessing WiFi signal strength readings. With Apple on the verge of announcing the iPhone5, we are hoping to see if they tip their hand on where they want to take geolocation and indoor location based services next.
Overall, we see this technology spreading across airports over the next couple of years, driven by the big players like Google with Maps and Apple, with many small players jockeying to get a piece of the pie. The next logical step is to have "offers" pop up while you are walking through the airport for special deals from retailers you are walking by. The privacy and spam concerns around this type of interaction on your smartphone is already a hot debate, and sure to heat up more before all is said and done.
Our next step is to look at some live trials, so, as always, please watch this space ...