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At last, how to locate the spanner in the works . .

At last, how to locate the spanner in the works . .

OUTDOOR navigation technology matured years ago and today we all walk around with a detailed map of the world in our pockets. But what happens when you enter a building? The navigation drops out. That’s because map technology is enabled via global positioning system (GPS)  satellite technology, writes João Fernandes (below, right), founder and chief executive of navigation and mapping data firm BuzzStreets.

And while that sounds “cool and techie”, in reality satellites are hopeless at picking up phone frequencies from within buildings.

This can be a big issue in complex indoor environments, such as at airports. Passengers arrive with little-or-no-idea of how to navigate to their departure gate, wandering aimlessly around looking for directions. Not only can this cause long queues at security, it can also mean missed departures and angry customers.

João Fernandes, founder and chief executive of navigation and mapping data firm BuzzStreets

Fortunately, solutions to this particular problem have already been developed. And they don’t just benefit passengers – they can really help the air cargo industry too.

Most of the current information technology solutions use Bluetooth beacons, which are Bluetooth devices that broadcast a radio signal, positioned around a building’s interior to ‘ping’ a user’s mobile device, or the device attached to a piece of equipment or machinery, such as tools, spanners, forklifts, containers, pallets etc. This allows an app to pinpoint the person’s or the equipment’s location to within a few centimetres.

These beacons are steadily becoming cheaper and more reliable, making them a cost-effective solution for most large and complex indoor environments, such as airports and cargo facilities.

Being able to pinpoint the location of a particular portable or mobile piece of equipment, such as an important spanner, or a specific machine, saves both considerable time and money. No more wondering who used it last, or where it was left. It will also make tracking of lost or stolen items much easier – hopefully preventing theft and thereby saving replacement costs.

The beacons enable staff to navigate indoors irrespective of whether they are moving people, machinery, equipment, or cargo shipments. This ability will also save time and ensure people and packages reach a destination faster, with fewer potential delays.

Of course, each environment offers its own unique technical challenges, meaning that indoor navigation requires an expert consultancy rather than a do-it-yourself approach.

BuzzStreets, for example, is currently working on a number of pilot projects with airports to iron out these kinks, whilst Google offers DIY indoor mapping – without navigation features.

But indoor navigation is not just about the act of navigating from ‘A’ to ‘B’ and being able to locate equipment when needed – it’s also about the data being collected. Anonymous navigation data holds great power; the insights it provides can make a huge difference.

In the past we’ve been improving our transport systems, public services, healthcare, and everything else – including the movement of cargo – through a combination of guesswork and some more scientific methods. Results are slow to come and never seem to capture the whole picture.

For example, every year more than 1.7million tonnes of cargo passes through Heathrow, London alone; and yet the UK air transport industry cannot sit back and wait for the results of a five-year trial before making important changes.

The world is too complex and too fast-moving for that traditional approach. Instead, gathering data in real-time allows us to put our theories to the immediate test, develop new models and make useful changes quickly and accurately. Decisions can be made much faster, cost savings implemented sooner and strategic changes can be better targeted.

Let’s look at another example. You have a piece of mobile equipment that is used within the airport (or warehouse) to help the movement of cargo. How do you know where it goes, what its movements are, or precisely when it is used? By using real-time data, gathered through an indoor navigation app, you can see that the piece of mobile equipment travels across the facility from one side to the other multiple times and takes ‘X’ minutes to do so each time.

Using this data you can ascertain where it is best to store it or if it would be cheaper to buy a second machine.  Perhaps, the freight is spending too long moving from one side to the other, or maybe it requires two people to move it and thus is taking up valuable staff time.

Real-time data can give you the information you need to make the appropriate decisions. Airports and cargo handlers can optimise their environments to improve the user experience, save money and improve security.

There are an almost infinite number of ways in which the data gathered by navigation software could be used to improve our businesses and our lives.

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