Indoor navigation helps people get out of the maze - EJ Insight



Indoor navigation helps people get out of the maze

Surveys found that the average European and American spends 90% of his life indoors, and the situation is similar for Hong Kong people with most time being spent at home, office, school or shopping mall.

Currently, we use to relying on GPS to navigate the streets, but once indoors, we have to use other means. In large facilities such as hospital, conference center, university campus, industrial park, corporate park or airport, users and visitors often seem to walk into a maze, finding it difficult and time-consuming to navigate. The advanced geographic information system (GIS) providing indoor positioning is therefore needed. Planners of concert and sport events also need to use indoor mapping to plan and practise effective event response such as crowd management.

NASA, the U.S. federal government responsible for the civil space program, has taken full advantage of these advanced technologies. Its Langley Research Center sits on a 764-acres campus (about the size of 17 Hong Kong Science Parks) and houses a range of aircraft and spacecraft-testing facilities with more than 200 buildings. To coordinate all activities, the Langley's GIS team has created a digital twin of the entire research center for day-to-day operations and maintenance.

At the same time, in order to better allocate space to more than 3,000 employees, the reduction of office space per person can not only reduce costs and emissions, but also improve user satisfaction. Managers plan through GIS taking into consideration the size of space required, distance and synergy with various laboratories and research facilities, electrical and water facilities, building safety, and proximity between relevant departments. Most importantly, the costs with pros and cons of each option can be foreseen for comparison.

Dublin Airport is the busiest airport in Ireland, handling 31.5 million passengers in 2018 and more than 2,300 flights per week. In the event of emergencies, such as bad weather leading to flight delay, another boarding gate may need to be arranged. The operations team shares information in real time through GIS, constantly updating aircraft and passenger flow data to make better and faster decisions to keep the airport running well.

Behind these smooth operations, in addition to GIS, a perfect three-dimensional (3D) digital map is required. I am therefore pleased to see a pilot project launched by the Lands Department in Hong Kong in 2020 to create a 3D indoor map. It covers 158 buildings in Kowloon East, including industrial and commercial buildings, hospitals and clinics, as well as public facilities such as MTR stations. As a next step, the Department is extending the 3D indoor map to cover a total of 1,250 buildings and accessible parts of buildings in phases, with completion scheduled for the second quarter of 2024.

However, in order for the public to enjoy the 3D indoor map information, the consent of the owner of the relevant building or the property management company is required. I hope that these owners can work with the authorities so that public and private sectors, especially startups, can develop various 3D indoor and route applications to promote the development of smart cities.



Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong