How Yahoo! JAPAN Is Solving Indoor Navigation and Search Challenges for Yahoo! Maps Users

Marketing & Promotion
Posted 6/22/2016 2:12:26 PM by JANNE HAVERINEN, CEO and Founder of IndoorAtlas

How Yahoo! JAPAN Is Solving Indoor Navigation and Search Challenges for Yahoo! Maps Users
It is easy to get lost in a Tokyo train station. Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, for example, handles 3.6 million passengers a day across hundreds of thousands of square meters of platforms, concourses and malls. It’s the biggest station in the world and is followed closely by three of Tokyo’s other train stations.

In recent years, the stations have been redeveloped with premium retail, department stores and malls. Passengers rely on in-station retail for everything they need. However, getting lost or finding an exit are real challenges. Yahoo! JAPAN, the country’s leading Internet service, recently launched a large scale indoor positioning system to address this issue and better connect passengers with in-station services.

The Challenge

Yahoo! JAPAN surveyed passengers who identified major issues with the station’s maze-like structure. “It is difficult to find out which ticket gate and which exit I should use.,” said one passenger. “I get lost in the station,” said another.

Yahoo! JAPAN evaluated indoor positioning system technologies with Shinjuku’s special requirements in mind. If the deployment was going to be successful, the solution had to be scalable across this station and many others. 

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacon indoor positioning systems were already deployed in some environments but Shinjuku and its counterparts, Shibuya and Tokyo stations, represent millions of square meters of indoor, largely underground, space. To get great positioning accuracy to build location aware apps, each station would require thousands of beacons. Understandably, the team at Yahoo! JAPAN was concerned about this scale challenge.

Bluetooth beacons require hardware, power or batteries, and some degree of management. For example, IT staff would need to be notified if a unit malfunctioned and batteries would need to be replaced often. In addition, devices may get re-positioned or removed. But perhaps the greatest resource challenge of all for a large venue, is the task to get permission to install devices from stores owners. With all of these challenges in mind, Yahoo! JAPAN knew they needed to think more broadly about their indoor positioning system needs.

Enter Geomagnetic Indoor Positioning 

The Yahoo! Maps research and development team was attracted to IndoorAtlas’ geomagnetic indoor positioning as its solution is based on anomalies in the earth’s magnetic field that are created by steel components of the building structure. Almost every mobile phone includes a compass chip that can measure distortions to the earth’s magnetic field inside a building. No power, beacons or management are required. Geomagnetic technology can pinpoint a user’s location down to the last meter on a train platform, a coffee shop or even a phone booth.

Yahoo! JAPAN reviewed Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but selected IndoorAtlas as the foundational technology for its indoor positioning system. IndoorAtlas can also leverage existing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacon infrastructure wherever they were available in the stations for further positioning optimization. This hybrid approach gives the mobile phone application more location information without the burden of instrumenting the whole building.

With IndoorAtlas, Yahoo! JAPAN was able to build high performing location-based app features for their Yahoo! Maps users that included way-finding and search. This provides their users with precise indoor location finding and navigation - the best route to the passenger’s destination will be routed even from the indoors of complex underground stations.

The software-only platform-as-a-service (PaaS) approach appealed to Yahoo! JAPAN’s software developers. They could get started on an indoor positioning system cost efficiently and quickly. Yahoo! JAPAN downloaded the IndoorAtlas MapCreator application from the Google Play store, uploaded the station floor plans and quickly set about deploying indoor positioning. 

The Future

The location services market is estimated to be worth $4.4 billion by 2019, driven by smartphone adoption customer experience and consumer buying behavior. Consumers want the same experience that they get with GPS, but indoors. They want to discover more about what’s around them or where they’re going. They want to take advantage of in-store promotions. They want to feel confident that they’ll get to their destination on time. 

For Yahoo! JAPAN, indoor positioning with geomagnetic allows them to solve some of these customer challenges, reaching millions of customers each day across millions of square meters of transit, retail and public space.

Using IndoorAtlas, Yahoo! JAPAN was able to solve the industry-wide challenge of scale. With an impressive 10 million downloads of Yahoo! Maps in March this year combined with the 38 million inhabitants in the greater Tokyo area alone - geomagnetic indoor positioning is certainly a great use case for the industry, that will likely attract millions more to IndoorAtlas in the future.

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About the author: JANNE HAVERINEN, CEO and Founder of IndoorAtlas

Dr. Janne Haverinen is the CEO and Founder at IndoorAtlas. Based out of the Oulu office in Finland, Janne leads the company in its mission to enable new user experiences for indoor. He has several patents granted to his name in fields of indoor navigation and location-based services. Prior to IndoorAtlas, Janne was a professor and a senior researcher fellow in the Computer Science and Engineering Laboratory in the University of Oulu. He has served as a member of IndoorAtlas’ board of directors since its inception. Janne holds a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from the University of Oulu, Finland.

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