High-precision wi-fi-based indoor positioning system
Most smartphones come with a pre-installed GPS app so that users can enjoy useful services such as turn-by-turn navigation to a destination. But GPS only works outdoors in two dimensions and is too inaccurate to be useful in smaller spaces like a shopping mall.
Right now, technologies that locate smartphone users indoors are all the rage. Not only does an indoor positioning system (IPS) provide navigation within a building, it also helps enterprises market to customers more strategically and emergency services locate people who need help.
In fact, leading tech players such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have been investing millions of dollars in developing high-precision IPS. Here comes the good news – experts at Hong Kong R & D Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management Enabling Technologies (or LSCM in short) invented an IPS that is 30 per cent more accurate than comparable solutions currently on the market. LSCM is now looking for partners and investors to start a company, to license the technology or to venture further in the area.
Foundation for countless applications
Every day, hundreds of visitors got lost in buildings. Though GPS chips these days are more sensitive than ever, locating yourself inside buildings with signals from satellites over 20,000 km away doesn’t work well.
First off, the data is not accurate enough for indoor use. GPS is rather low-resolution (accuracy within 25 metres). That means you can’t tell which door to go through if there are two within 25 metres (and it isn’t remotely impossible).
Secondly, GPS only works in two dimensions, meaning you can’t tell which floor you are on. In fact, indoor positioning system (IPS) is so much more than just an indoor navigation tool.
Gigantic structures such as museums, hospitals and universities will be able to enhance user experience by providing useful information, such as the shortest route to the nearest elevators, the nearest cafeteria without a queue, the nearest shop that sells battery – or a reminder of your upcoming appointment or booked tour.
Shop owners will be able to engage with in-shop customers and sell their products more efficiently on hi-tech multimedia platforms such as augmented reality. The business potential of IPS is huge and the beauty of it all is that possible applications are endless once you set up the system as a foundation.
Unique algorithm of wi-fi fingerprinting
Despite years of R & D, IPS technology hasn’t really come to maturity until a research team at HKUST Department of Computer Science and Engineering, in partnership with LSCM, came up with an innovative approach to indoor positioning with existing wi-fi signals.
The strength of signal is used to estimate the distance of an active device from an access point. Combining data from several access points, its location can be accurately interpolated. However, signal strength of wi-fi networks fluctuates greatly. The team had to use an advanced algorithm, alongside a set of unique wi-fi fingerprints, to reduce the error. Their IPS system has been tested in real world locations, yielding 30 per cent higher accuracy than other comparable solutions currently in the market.
The research team is now looking for partners and investors from around the world to commercialise their groundbreaking IPS. LSCM is open to different options of collaboration, such as licensing the technology to an existing company, or creating a startup business to market it. They are also looking for further funding to take their research to a whole new level.
Contact information: terry.pollard [at] isis.ox.ac.uk (Terry Pollard)
• This article is part of the “ITF Projects Commercialisation Programme” hosted by Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) in conjunction with Isis Innovation, the technology transfer company of the University of Oxford. The programme aims to expose Hong Kong innovations to international audiences and hence, facilitate commercialisation via the network of Isis. For information on all projects in the programme, please visit
This project is organised by Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corporation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material/event (or by members of the project team) do not reflect the views of the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Innovation and Technology Commission or the Vetting Committee of the General Support Programme of the Innovation and Technology Fund.