What sort of infrastructure is needed to allow me to write a simple mobile app for indoor navigation?

Professor Mike Goodchild said:

the average American only spends 13 percent of the time outdoors. GIS-based services help us find restaurants and hotels, but they offer almost no support for navigating in the complex indoor spaces of shopping centers, hospitals, mines, or airports.

On my smartphone, I'd like to show a floor plan oriented to the real world, centered on my location.

  • 1
    I remember seeing on one of those "How Stuff Works" type of shows about the routing systems used by shipping companies at their distro facilities. I suppose that's a form of indoor GIS. They had motorized carts that people rode or walked around with that were automatically navigated to the right places. So I guess in that case it is highly specialized and proprietary.
    – blah238
    Mar 11, 2011 at 23:35
  • In the spirit of StackExchange, and to avoid abuse of CW, answers that do not provide adequate explanation, or are mere pointers to apps, will be deleted without further comment.
    – whuber
    Apr 29, 2013 at 14:31

7 Answers 7


Update 5/24/2016 Google's Project Tango has "Area Learning".

Google Maps just announced that they are now "mapping the indoors".

From Wired.com:

"Google Maps 6.0 for Android launched Tuesday with a bold initiative: indoor mapping. Partnering at launch with a selection of businesses and public service structures, the new mobile Maps version allows users to see the entire layout of a mapped building, switch between floor plans if the structure has multiple levels, and locate indoor points of interest like retail stores, bathrooms and ATMs."

A few other companies are already doing this, as mentioned at this SearchEngineLand article, but clearly none with the power to push the market as Google:

"A number of other companies, including Point Inside, Micello and FastMall are also creating interior and mall maps... Even though these third parties and Microsoft had been working on interior mapping for some time, Google’s entry into the segment will instantly ignite it and make interior mapping a “must have” for companies such as Nokia and even Apple, which has not-so-quietly been building its own mapping capability for the past three years."

I am guessing that this 2010 article talking about the work FastMall is doing didn't get nearly the hype of the Google press release.

  • 3
    Wow, that's exciting ... and a bit scary. It won't be much harder for Google to offer focused advertisements like those in Minority Report. When you use their indoor map, do they keep your location? Nov 30, 2011 at 15:32
  • 3
    Agreed, especially when you read about articles like this one where malls are tracking (or attempting to... they later pulled the plug) shoppers locations anonymously to better understand purchasing connections within the mall. money.cnn.com/2011/11/22/technology/… Nov 30, 2011 at 16:31

I am currently conducting research that attempts to implement Gaussian Processes for Signal Strength-Based Location Estimation in a distributed grid environment using parallelized algorithms of GPs that will be consumed on an Android application. While I do not have a working implementation yet, I will certainly keep those interested updated. And you are of course encouraged to venture down this rabbit hole yourself.

The one thing I have discovered during my research is there is no real platform, commercial or open source, for indoor navigation. What I define as a platform is a collection of appropriate algorithms for determining accurate indoor location, floor plan base maps (and additional data specific ones), a cloud or grid environment for location computation (you don't want to be doing those computations on the mobile device, and you should plan on scalability for the future if you do actually figure out how to do this - it will be in high demand), and either a mobile application or API that supports the above infrastructure.

Your best bet currently for an indoor navigation platform is to leverage existing players in the market - Google Maps, Bing Maps, ArcGIS - and overlay your own base maps for the indoor locations of interest. The accuracy of the location indoors depends on which location provider(s) you use (A-GPS, cellular networks, WiFi). What mobile OS are you wanting to use? If you are using Android, they have an excellent primer on obtaining user location, and I have a public GitHub repository that allows you to log location observations from each location provider for later analysis. DISCLAIMER: That application was written as a supplemental component to a research paper, and it is by no means complete or fit for anything. ;)


Bluetooth access points and a bluetooth-enabled phone would be one way (using Received Signal Strength Indicator):
In-building location using Bluetooth

Abstract—This paper presents a new system for indoor loca- tion of a mobile device based on bluetooth technology. Bluetooth access points of a network are used for the location system and to access the network. Location is made by means of the signal strength received from those access points. The signal energy will be measured by the mobile device and it will be transmitted to a central server that calculates its location. Since location is made in a central server, it is possible to consider any kind of algorithm to estimate it. The location system also uses a previous scene analysis by considering a map of received signal strengths.


Someone is doing a presentation in Seattle at the AAG annual conference next month Maps and Society for the 21st Century AAG Annual Meeting in Seattle Thursday, 4/14/2011 at 16:40 PM. Author(s): Chungweon Oh, Prof.* - Namseoul Univ.

"This Study explores Integration Strategy between GIS and BIM in Indoor Geographic information for effective management of human acvitity management in view of Geography."


Nokia is working on an indoor 3D mapping system using bluetooth.

While floor layouts are good, they aren’t as detailed as a 3D layout, which is what Nokia has planned. It will use Bluetooth 4.0 on your phone or on a tag, along with locator equipment installed in the ceilings to help a create 3D map of a venue that Nokia claims is accurate up to 21cm.


You need the things below for the infrastructure:

  1. Indoor Maps with a global coordinate system.

    Indoor maps can be generated by setup a "Map Server" by using some open source software. Please check out at Open Geospatial Consortium | OGC(R).

    You also need to overlay the indoor maps to the outdoor maps if you want to develop smooth "outdoor <-> indoor" navigation (e.g. from airport terminal to a MacDonald outlet in a shopping mall 20km away).

    It's very difficult to overlap an indoor map onto an outdoor map (e.g. Google Maps).

  2. Databases for those indoor room unit number, corridor information, staircases, lifts, etc.

    All these can be saved into a database and processed by the "Map Server database engine" to generate meaningful context map. (Google "PostGIS")

  3. Accurate Indoor Positioning technology

    The most difficult part, Google "WiFi finger print" or "Y-find" or "Qubulous". In my personal opinions, Wi-Fi indoor localization tech are not reliable yet, but it is developing and improving.

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