Navigating our places of work – the future starts now
João Fernandes is the Founder and CEO of BuzzStreets, a B2B navigation and location-based services solution.
Opinions expressed by EM360 contributors are their own.
Here's the scenario. You have a client meeting in Brussels at 10am and you're behind schedule. Fortunately, your AI assistant has already ordered you a self-driving taxi to take you to the airport. Once there you get straight through security and are directed to the correct gate, despite the recent change. Your flight boards and a couple of hours later you disembark, hop in another self-driving taxi, and are navigated to the meeting room within the client's offices.
No, this isn't the start of my sci-fi novel, it's not even a particularly futuristic vision. It's merely the combination of technologies already coming to maturity.
- AI Assistants. Check.
- Self-driving taxis. Check.
- Tech-enabled airport security. Check.
- Real-time indoor navigation. Check.
- Supersonic aircraft. Check.
We've all heard about tech giants competing over AI assistants and self-driving taxis, and the first supersonic aircraft had it's first flight back in 1969 (although safety issues led to it being pulled in 2013). Now some companies are using KYC technology to enable security checks before you even reach the airport.
It's not hard to see how these technologies will chain together to allow for swift and seamless travel. The one thing fuelling it all, however, is navigation.
Of course, outdoor navigation technology matured years ago and now 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 GPS – satellite technology. And while that sounds cool and techie, in reality satellites are rubbish at picking up phone frequencies from within buildings.
This can be a problem for large office environments. Clients arrive and immediately get lost in a maze of floors and corridors. They arrive late and flustered to the meeting without any time to set up their laptop correctly. The result is stressed clients and ramshackle presentations.
Fortunately, solutions to this particular problem have already been developed. Most use Bluetooth beacons positioned around a office interior to ping a user's mobile device, allowing an app to pinpoint the user's location to within a few feet. Of course, there are more sensitive solutions which allow for centimetre-accurate positioning, but that's usually overkill for something the size of a person.
These beacons are steadily becoming cheaper and more reliable, making them a cost-effective solution for most large and complex indoor environments, such as offices. Every environment has its own unique technical challenges to be ironed out, however, meaning indoor navigation requires an expert consultancy rather than a DIY approach.
BuzzStreets, for example, is working on a number of pilot projects with hospitals, offices, and stadiums to iron out these kinks, while Google offer DIY indoor mapping without navigation features.
In the very near future, we will see the combination of these technologies, providing a quick and simple solution for offices of any size. At this point, we will quickly reach a critical mass of businesses providing indoor navigation and the whole world will be navigable – indoors and out.
Indoor navigation isn't just about getting people from A to B, however. It can also be used to trigger events, such as pop-up videos and other information.
Some offices already display promotional information on screens dotted around the building. These could be made a lot more immersive, allowing the client to select the information they are interested in and save videos to view later on. They could even get a visual demonstration of how you do what you do and what makes you better than your competition.
Again, this isn't necessarily a sci-fi vision. At BuzzStreets we are already playing around with augmented reality (AR) ideas such as these to offer users a rich, immersive environment to explore.
When handsfree, wearable devices become the mainstream, this futuristic vision will become a reality. Until then, we will still need to use our smartphones and tablets as a window to this world.
Data has become increasingly important – and valuable. It drives decisions and precipitates change. Anonymous navigation data also holds a great power. For centuries we've been improving our transport systems, our public services, healthcare, and everything else, through a combination of guesswork and scientific testing. Results are slow and seldom capture the whole picture.
With a global population of over 7,000,000,000 people and rising, the world can't wait for the results of a five-year trial before making important changes. The world is too complex and fast-moving for that traditional approach. Gathering data in real-time allows us to put our theories to the test, develop new models, and make useful changes quickly and accurately.
How do people move around your office? What route do they take to the train station? Where is footfall highest? Why are people visiting your office in the first place? Where do staff tend to congregate? Are certain spaces underused?
Data can help answer all of these questions and many more. Businesses can optimise their environments to improve the user experience, save money, and change our lives.
The same approach can also be applied to inanimate objects, such as laptops and tablets. If you need a piece of technology, but it's not where it should be, location data can help you track it down. Perhaps you find that some equipment is regularly being transported long distances around your office, in which case it would save time and money to buy a second machine.
There are almost infinite ways in which the data gathered by navigation software could be used to improve our lives. Many imaginative ideas will surely emerge very soon.