Going deeper inside Venue Maps

Ian Delaney
London 51° 30' 23.112" N, -0° 7' 37.956" E

Last week, we introduced Venue Maps on the HERE for Android app. This time, we’re looking at why they’re so important and where they’re going next.

Venue Maps are really useful to have but they’re also a key asset for our business; and their possibilities and desirability are escalating fast.

Commercial value

HERE Venue Maps are used by some of our largest customers: Garmin, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Qualcomm all use them in their HERE-powered products.

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“These maps are also in demand from venue owners themselves, who are keen to create their own apps by licensing our Venue Maps through the HERE SDK,” says Joe Leigh, product manager for Venue Maps.

“There’s a lot of commercial possibilities for them – for example, store owners in a mall could attach virtual coupons with special offers to their premises on the map. Or sports stadium owners could create an app that allows you to order food directly to your seat.”

Mapping large indoor locations might be slightly easier than you might think, too. Newly built venues almost inevitably have 3D computer models straight from the architects, which can be cleaned up and ingested into the HERE map. That said, sadly, there’s no standard format for indoor maps, and each of our more-than 1000 sources uses a slightly different format.

More time-consuming is the quality of the data inside those venues:

“There’s a big challenge in keeping Venue Maps up-to-date. Mall locations change hands very frequently – double the speed of outdoor map locations. One thing we’re working on is allowing venue owners to make those updates themselves. And they actually really want that capability because up-to-date maps equals happier customers, both in terms of the store owners renting space from the venue owner and the people shopping in the malls.”

The sky is the limit (but not for long)

Another area of complexity is displaying the user’s position in the correct location, and on the correct floor. Your phone can’t see the sky indoors, so fixing your position through GPS – and thus, being able to calculate routes for you (‘How do I get to the GAP store in this mall?’) – is tricky.

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There are a number of initiatives to solve this. And HERE Venue Maps are actually a part of the solution.

Joe explains:

“One way to solve indoor positioning is to triangulate your position from the strength of WiFi signals, instead of GPS satellites.”

“Concrete walls can distort those measurements, which can throw a spanner in the works. If you’re really close to a WiFi transmitter, but there’s a wall in the way, it can seem to the system like you’re a lot further away than you are.”

“But because HERE has already mapped the walls, we can provide that information to the folks working on indoor positioning, and they can alter their measurements to take account of them.”

“Things are moving much faster now than they were in the 2000s – I’m confident the problem will be cracked very soon.”

(It’s worth mentioning that HERE parent company Nokia is a founding member of the In-Location Alliance, which promotes innovation and open standards in indoor positioning).

So what lies in the future for Venue Maps?

Once indoor positioning gets solved, then increasing the detail of what we can display is the most important priority. So we can get down to the position of individual items inside stores.

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Joe says that this is something there’s a high demand for: “A study from Accenture found that 73 per cent of people would rather use a smartphone app to find things in a store than talk to a human being.”

“In my ideal world, say I’m decorating my home and I run out of paint, I’d just scan the barcode on the tin, and HERE would guide me to the nearest DIY store that has it in stock. And then take me right to the shelf where I can find it.”

That’s a brilliant vision of the future, and we don’t think we’ll have to wait long.

And, in fact, indoor maps and positioning have received a huge boost in importance in just the last few weeks.

On January 29th, the Federal Communications Commission in the United States voted to enact a new regulation requiring US mobile network operators to locate emergency (911) callers indoors. This will allow emergency responders to get to the situation faster and save lives.

Accurate maps of indoor spaces are no longer a nice to have, they’re becoming a must have!

image credit: TK Kurikawa

Topics: Indoor Maps, Cartography, Features

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