Indoor Mapping: What Microsoft’s Path Guide brought to the table

Indoor maps can be useful in various applications, like: Indoor Navigation/Routing, 2D/3D Maps Visualization, Public Participation, Emergency response, and Amenities Display (e.g. Fire Extinguisher and First Aid Box).

While Indoor mapping involves a great deal of money and infrastructure, comprising: beacons, lasers, emitters, scanners, and as such never comes cheap to setting up.

Microsoft's Path Guide is an Android app that focuses on navigating the indoor maps, with the aim to visualize the entire volume in which a user is traveling, availing other users' trusts to create “traces” to and from static locations.

It's a project under Microsoft Research that intends to simplify, while utilizing existing sensors and the fact that people already know most of the places you want to go, to develop an indoor navigation.

And users can easily find the correct path to their destinations by simply following traces created by a “leader,” or someone who has already been to that location.

With a smartphone in your hand, it's that easy to find your way to a destination, even in an unfamiliar city.

However, it isn't that easy to search indoors, in which the GPS satellite signals are not accurately traceable for navigation applications. Path Guide uses the sensors already in the phone, from accelerometers (individual steps) to magnetometers (to sense the general area), without the need for GPS, or wireless beacons.

Other popular indoor navigation approach is built upon Wi-Fi-based positioning. With Wi-Fi signals more commonly available in indoor environments, and radio frequency (RF) signal characteristics and triangulation processes, which can determine the approximate position of mobile devices.

But as data representation and manipulation in large-sized indoor spaces are outstanding and costly, it places a huge question mark over the universal application of indoor navigation technologies.

So, Path Guide follows a peer-to-peer leader/follower model, which approach has the main benefits: First, the system is completely plug-and-play.

And any two users in a building can use the indoor navigation. Secondly, the combination of data from multiple users, means that every single collected path benefits, providing more navigation opportunities to more people with improved user experience.

For instance, "if you are going to a large office building for the first time to attend a meeting, a colleague who knows where the meeting room is can act as a “guide leader” and, using Path Guide, record a trace from the entrance of the building to the meeting room".

Albeit, it's still a prototype and as such has some rough edges, Microsoft hopes you’ll download the app and any feedback on improvements to the app UI, its usability, or in dealing with problematic situations are greatly welcome by the research team.
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