How to Develop a BLE Indoor Positioning App

Navigation is an essential tool to have when you are going outside to your favorite destination or your work. There are numerous navigation systems available in the market that helps you in directing the route of your set destination. These applications are pretty famous and are being used on a daily basis by a majority of people. The technology behind these external navigation systems is known as Global Position System or GPS. 

However, GPS will only help you while you are out there on the streets, but the moment you enter any building, it stops working as it requires a satellite signal. There’s no need to worry; you can find your way in any building or locate a person in there with the help of an Indoor Positioning System or IPS. 

When you are in a hospital or a massive shopping mall, you wish to have an indoor navigation app to get to your desired shop or any section or locate a doctor or a particular patient. There are various uses of indoor positioning system such as crowd control in airports, establish a connection between people with similar interests that are in close range, a passenger can be guided to the boarding gate by tracking his location, staff management, and million other things. 

For indoor position tracking, applications based on location are getting a fair share of popularity. Their application has become easy with the increase in mobile communication devices such as tablets and smartphones. 

Although developing an indoor positioning system is quite a challenge in current times, there is no standardized solution. Still, there are technologies available such as the BLE beacon, that can help you build your IPS. With significant improvement being made in the field, the BLE beacon indoor positioning system remains a hot topic in the market.  

Difference Between Outdoor Positioning Systems (OPS) and Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS)  

When you read the term navigation, the first thought that pops in your mind is the GPS maps. That’s because of the over publicity and overuse of this technology. But when it comes to IPS, people think it is still in an early phase of development. In reality, the science behind an IPS has made several enhancements. Let’s understand the difference between an OPS and an IPS. 

1. Outdoor Positioning  

The complete name of the technology behind outdoor navigation is the global navigation satellite systems. It depends solely on the signals received from the satellites for operation. Later, the United States of America developed a similar technology, i.e., GPS. 

These positioning systems technology works on the signals sent by a spectrum of satellites around the Earth to a receiver unit. Just like the US, every other country or union of countries has developed their own global navigation systems that are used commercially. 

Today, these OPS working with GPS are used in a variety of applications. Google Maps is one of the majorly used outdoor navigation apps with over 150 million users worldwide. Apart from their generic use, these applications are being used to mark famous restaurants, libraries, tourist places, etc.

2. Indoor Positioning Systems

As compared to outdoor navigation, an indoor positioning system is utilized for the purpose of localizing certain positions that are in a closed environment. This system executes the necessary infrastructure to deliver the location services for detecting an object or person in the indoor surroundings. Since the GPS signals are not available indoors, an indoor navigation app entirely relies on different technologies. 

Conventionally, the technology involved to gather data in this system is radio signals, magnetic field readings, infrared, or ultrasound. With the advancement of technology, we have an improved set of the technological stack such as BLE beacon. Once the data is collected, it is interpreted and applied to the algorithms related to positions that offer a varying set of accuracy. 

Magnetic field readings deliver the optimum accuracy in terms of IPS but being expensive and complicated; the implementation makes it difficult to use. Although, radio signals emitted by the Bluetooth integrated products and Wi-Fi access points are the most common technologies used in this context. Nowadays, Wi-Fi adapters and Bluetooth is widely used in smartphones and tablets that allow them to pick up such signals when needed and connect to the transmitting unit. 

The number of uses of an IPS is countless; it can help in navigating through a big shopping complex, giant airports, big production units, etc. In terms of tracking, it can be used to avoid any crowd gathering, guided tours, timed display of advanced marketing campaigns, etc. Nowadays, various IPS are developed based on various technologies such as Wi-Fi-based, vicinity-based, ultra-wideband, frequency-based, etc.  

Working of an Indoor Positioning System

In current times, beacon software development is used primarily in various IPS. To detect a device’s location, it relies on data collected from various sources. These sources mainly include the information fetched from various sensors that are present in modern smartphones, such as gyroscope, radiofrequency, accelerometer, etc. 

Analyzing the data from these sources delivers the needed routes and directions to a user. This navigation service relies on three main factors: guiding transmitted sign fetched from a smartphone, inherent dynamic aligning method, and indoor locating system. The process analyzes the data from various sources to deliver the location of a particular destination or a person. 

The input data consists of indications from transmitters, mainly from BLE beacons and Wi-Fi. Location mapping includes the data such as lifts, staircases, etc., and data fetched from smartphones’ sensors. Overall, an indoor navigation app needs a building map, a correct map in the smartphone, back-end servers, and BLE beacons and fingerprinting. 

Technologies Involved in the Development of Indoor Positioning Systems

The technologies used in the BLE app development for indoor navigation purposes are wireless technologies that include wireless communication technology and BLE beacons.  

1. Wireless Communication Technology

Wireless technologies are used in numerous sectors all over the world. Any IPS mainly relies on the inputs from various wireless technologies to communicate and share the needed data. Based on the quality of received radio signals from such sources, it is easy to calculate the distance to the signal source. 

There are various wireless communication technologies involved in the development of any IPS, such as mobile networks, Bluetooth, wireless fidelity, UWB, etc. In this detailed guide, we will discuss Wi-Fi technologies and Bluetooth. 

a. Wi-Fi  

Wireless Fidelity is an ultra-modern technology that assists the users to get connected to the network with the help of equipment or hardware known as access points. Wi-Fi mainly functions over the ISM frequency bands of 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. In terms of acceptance of signals, wireless fidelity depends on various factors such as type of antenna, signal interference, etc. 

Wi-Fi signals are primarily utilized in an indoor environment. There can be various wireless access points in ample indoor space, delivering a substantial amount of reference points that an IPS can use. As a fact, wireless fidelity was not developed to be used in such a way as each time a scan is conducted, queries are transported to the access points to ask for the needed pieces of information that may or may not affect the overall network performance. 

Further, these access points are owned by a third party in most cases that might not permit their use for these processes as it is a violation of their security policies. However, if a third party owned access points denied the request, you can always choose other technologies that are more adapted to the indoor navigation system, such as Bluetooth. 

b. Bluetooth

Bluetooth is another type of wireless communication technology that is used vastly all over the world. Its functioning is similar to the wireless fidelity operation on the 2.4 GHz ISM frequency board. It connects the digital devices that are present over a small distance. Bluetooth technology does work on an open band and has been standardized as IEEE 802.15.1 by the IEEE and is regulated by the “Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).” However, it does not maintain these standards anymore. 

Various Bluetooth app developers have widely used it for various beacon software developments. It has also been used vastly in households and offices for numerous purposes, such as in wireless speakers to receive audio or music from a nearby device.  

Bluetooth wireless technology uses 79 channels to transmit various data; the frequency range of operations is 2402 MHz to 2480 Mhz. ‘Frequency hopping’ is the name of the technique that is used to eliminate disturbance from other RF signals. This technique works by transmitting the data over to one of the available channels for a short period. If any interference is detected, the data is then resent over to the other channel. 

Initially, to transmit data through Bluetooth in an indoor positioning system, the devices have established a connection. The current technology allows a single device to connect to a maximum of 7 devices and communicate with them simultaneously. The method is known as ‘master-slave,’ where the connection initiator device acts as a master and the other seven devices act as a slave. This technology has been a problem-solver for various BLE app development companies. It has been designed as a low-energy technology; it operates on battery-powered devices over short ranges. The use of Bluetooth sensors to transmit data to receiver devices without any communication has been quite widespread.  

2. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE is known as a subsystem of the classic Bluetooth 4 .0 protocol that has been developed to deliver device connections with low use of power. In recent times, the number of communication channels has been decreased to 40.2 MHz from 79 wide channels. Among these channels, three are used for the sole purpose of advertising. 

Like the traditional Bluetooth, BLE devices also work by utilizing various output power settings that can be regulated as per the required range. Low output power is needed for a short distance between 1-15 meters, and the frequency selected for this range is between -30 dBm and -12 dBm. In the case of distances greater than 20 meters, a higher power might be needed, but this will not reduce the battery charge at a rapid rate. 

At a distance range of 50 meters in a non-obstacle location, BLE devices use a value of 0dBm. The signal range can be improved by the use of high values up to 10dBm. However, it is a theoretical value. BLE technology was developed to transmit data without a connection. Devices based on this technology are commonly used in a one-way connection in which a receiver passively collects data from a BLE device, and they are not able to establish a connection with the broadcaster. This model ensures that the data cannot be manipulated in any case. 

As the manufacturing of these BLE units grew, the customized configuration becomes a priority, and now we can see connectable BLE devices in the market. In terms of security, these devices can now be protected with passwords in case of any modification. 

Minor forms of these devices are referred to as BLE beacons that are known to best for the purpose of manufacturing an IPS. These are the choice of any beacon app developer as these tiny devices are restricted to transmitting data that can be used to the position.  

a. Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons  

BLE Beacons are the devices that are used to transmit small packets of data at a frequent time interval and are powered by a coin-cell battery. However, they can also be powered by using USB and AA batteries depends on the availability. These BLE beacons can continually operate for several months or, in some cases, years, depending upon the types of power source used. Their smaller size makes them easy to use and install. 

BLE Beacons successfully maintain their energy consumption by staying asleep the majority of the time of operations. They only wake up to broadcast signals at predefined intervals. Their operation time depends on the type of system they are being used in, as it can vary from 100 milliseconds to a few seconds. However, this timing can be adjusted by any beacon app development company as per the requirements. 

The rising benefits of using this ultra-modern technology are making beacon software development very popular. Based on the Bluetooth core specifications, the broadcasted data can be formatted, which is contained in packets. However, these data packets are formatted with all their elements. 

The broadcasted data of any BLE packet has been restricted to 31 bytes only, which are made of content strings and short textual, numerical values, and content strings. To optimize the data field, the beacon protocols are enforced. These protocols deliver several tools to connect additional data to the cloud services that are using a beacon. 

 3. Beacon Protocols

The BLE Beacon protocols are used to structure the data field by dividing it into several small sections that consist of output power, signal strength, etc. The data is always represented in the form of hexadecimal values, which can easily be interpreted by using a code and tools that the protocol creators provide. The beacon software development industry is rising as these devices are immensely being used in the various BLE app development processes such as an indoor navigation system. Two of the widely used beacon protocols are iBeacon and Eddystone.   

a. iBeacon 

Apple Inc. created the iBeacon protocol in the year 2013, and it was the only beacon technology available back then. The primary function of this beacon was to transform iOS devices into advertisers that can broadcast various sets of data to other listening iOS devices. This system was used to calculate the distance between the receiver device and the transmitting device down the road. The frame of iBeacon consists of a TX Power field that is the measured value for the beacon broadcast power that has been calibrated at 1 meter in the distance.

The Universally Unique Identifier, commonly field known as a UUID, is used to identify any particular application that is connected to the beacon at a specific time. Hence, you will find that each beacon that is related to an application possesses the same ID. The Minor and Major values are mainly used to detect the beacons in a smaller sub-group. 

Fig: UUID, Major, and Minor of iBeacons  

During application, the value of any sample departmental store’s UUID will be the same. The purpose of the same values is to let a mobile device use a single identifier to find any store that is present in that region. Further, each store in that complex is assigned with a unique central value that helps the device to identify the store in which it is present. Now, every single department in a particular store is assigned distinct minor values.  

Now, your mobile device can quickly determine when a user has entered or left any of the stores and can find the particular store and the department by using this information of an iBeacon. However, you have to pay Apple to use this technology and the related APIs to use this technology. The restrictions also prevent you from implementing across various platforms. You can solve this problem by finding a BLE app development company and start your own iBeacon software development.

b. Eddystone 

Eddystone is a beacon protocol that has been developed by Google that permits Bluetooth Low Energy devices to transmit data across short distances to a receiver. The prime benefits of using this protocol over any other existing beacon protocol are that it permits the setting and sends four different advertising packets that are also known as frame types depending on the purpose of the beacon. The frame type of this protocol is the first field that is present in all of the available Eddystone frames. 

Just like the iBeacon, there is TX Power field, but with the functioning directed towards Eddystone. The value of which is calibrated from a distance of 0 meters. The other two fields that are identified as Instance ID and Namespace ID are similar to the data that is present in the Minor and Major values of the iBeacon. In the case of Eddystone, the Namespace ID will be unique for every single beacon that is deployed in the system, and the Instance ID will also be unique for a particular beacon device. 

In Eddystone, there is another kind of frame type that is presently named as URL. The data contained in this frame type is an URL that can be 17 bytes in terms of length. This particular beacon frame broadcasts an URL into the wind. By implementing this, every user of Google Chrome can see which beacons are around them by clicking the notification bar and interact without needing any specific application (a physical web application may be required in various Android devices), but it only works on iOS. For example, a small bakery can use a beacon without developing an application to send its websites into the wind and not force the user to download at the same time. 

This frame is used for the purpose of broadcasting telemetry data linked to the beacon device. This is the primary method used to monitor deployments in the context of battery, beacon temperature, advertisement count, and the slipped seconds that happens due to power.  

Indoor Positioning Methods

Radiofrequency signals are transmitted by wireless devices and are used in several ways in the execution of the Indoor Positioning System. The process is carried out in three steps that consist of the measurement of characteristics of a signal being transmitted. The next step involves the estimation of the distance of an object with the measurement collected in the first step. The last step is range estimation. These processes are crucial in the development of an indoor navigation system. 

1. Measurement methods 

An ideal method of measurement is needed to be implemented to utilize the properties of a radio signal for the purpose of indoor positioning. In order to calculate the angle of arrival of signal and detect the distance of the source of a received signal, these measurement methods are used. The information collected relies on the signals being broadcasted freely in the wind and can be intercepted by anyone with the help of some wireless communication technology.  

a. Angle of Arrival 

The Angle of Arrival, also known as AOA, is a type of measurement method that is used to identify the angle of a radio frequency signal when it hits the receiving antenna. The direction is calculated by determining the difference in time a particular wave lands on each antenna. It is also termed as the Time difference of arrival. It’s frequently used in getting an estimate of the direction of arrival of a signal; it can be from any mobile device. This measurement method is commonly used with the combination of triangulation and helps in finding the relative location of two anchor transmitters. 

b. Time of Arrival

The time of arrival is termed the time of flight. It is used to measure the amount of time a radio frequency signal takes to get received by the receiver after it has been sent by the transmitter. When the signal is being transmitted, the speed is noted and later used to calculate the distance traveled by the signal. The distance from a minimum of three receivers emerges as three distinct circles hence, revealing the position of the transmitting device.  

c. RSSI

RSSI is the abbreviation of Received signal strength indication. This is a measurement of the remaining power in a received radio frequency signal. This signal plays a vital role in developing an indoor positioning system. The remaining power in the received signal is often termed signal strength. If the distance to be traveled for the signal is short, then the remaining power in the signal after getting received will be more. Hence, it will be known as a strong signal. 

However, there is no standardized system to measure the strength of a signal. But the unit of measurement of any signal strength in dBm. The relation between RSSI and the distance traveled by the signal depends on several factors. To ease the process, you can always use the propagation models that have been conditioned to the environment. The beacon software development process uses these environments to enhance signal quality.  

2. Estimation Techniques

Indoor positioning system often uses estimation techniques to identify the position of a mobile device. The propagation approach calculates the position of the device by approximating the distance between various access points. The second approach is termed fingerprinting; it is used to determine an accurate location with the help of several signal characteristics. However, these estimation techniques are based on the use of data delivered by the measurement method to identify the exact position. 

a. Triangulation

The triangulation method is based on the readings and measurements delivered by the RSSI. This approach is slightly different from the fingerprinting approach. To implement this method, three or more reference devices are required to be placed in a formation to cover a specific area. 

Fig: Triangulation of signal 

After the devices are placed, the distance from the reference devices is estimated by the receiver, and an interception is determined, which is usually the user or mobile device’s location.  

b. Proximity

Proximity is another technique used in the BLE Beacon indoor positioning systems. It identifies the location of a mobile device and to the exact same location as the access point unit does. The coordinate system creates a sense of inaccuracy in terms of locating a mobile device; however, this method calculates the location of the device into a local area.

To determine the position of a device by this method, the technology in use should be capable of identifying the position of that device within the boundary of the allowed range. Although, numerous radio technology products have this characteristic. Some of them are Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, BLE beacons, etc. 

Begin the development of your Indoor Navigation App

Development Process

The development of an indoor navigation app is a complicated process. However, with the correct use of the technologies mentioned above and following the generic BLE app development process, you can easily create a BLE beacon indoor positioning system. Let’s understand the various components of the development process. 

1. Iterative Process

The process to develop BLE app is considered an iterative process as there are hundreds of factors to implement. The set of features will be different from each person’s perspective. To make a unique indoor positioning system, you have to be open to suggestions. Conduct market research and let your target audience tell you what features they would have in such an app. The development process will have numerous interactions as some will include the addition of a feature or a function, and some will include the elimination of various features.

The output of the indoor navigation app should match the requirements of your target audience. To take the process a step further, you should hold an in-house meeting to discuss various aspects of the process, such as budget, team requirements, and hiring of a beacon software development company  

2. Design prototype

A prototype is an initial phase of testing a beta version of the complete software or app. The intent behind making a prototype is to test out its efficiency and detect the defects in the early phase. Another reason for developing these prototypes is to deliver the idea to all the members of the board of what the project does and how it will function in the future. To implement various phases of testing and examine design ideas, a prototype can be used.

Fig: Prototype 

It is a fact that sometimes, ideas and a design can be too far from reality in the context of the use of any application. A prototype gives you a perception of your final product and its functionality. This process reveals several outlines about the projects such as, which part to remove, which idea to be included, etc. Here are some advantages of developing a prototype: 

  • Enhance creativity.
  • Answer questions related to the difference between the idea and reality of the product.
  • Assist in the exploration of a design.
  • Help in capturing and creating ideas.
  • A prototype enhances the communication between the development team and the members of the boards and helps in securing funding.
  • Early evaluation and elimination of issues.

a. Low-Fidelity 

Low fidelity prototyping consists of a sequence of hand-drawn mock designs. These sketches are feasible and straightforward to create in terms of cost. It delivers feasibility to the beacon app developer to draw the sketch of UI, buttons, text fields, etc. To develop a digital product such as an application or software, numerous sketches are designed until the final draft comes over. You get an idea about the final layout of the product and can visualize the same.  

b. High Fidelity

The high-fidelity prototype is created after the low-fidelity prototype if your budget allows you to build one. This prototype is a computer-based interactive sample design. You can interact with the UI design and can test the working of your app. A High-fidelity prototype states the actual process of interface design and the virtual functionalities that are present in the app. You can test the use of BLE beacons and their efficiency in a test form.  

Implementation

At this point of this blog, all the critical points related to a BLE beacon indoor positioning system have been discussed. The only point is remaining in the implementation of your project. You should be aware of the sequence of functions that your app should follow. The functions should initiate by a couple of BLE beacons that are positioned in a specific area. Then, the application should scan these beacons and receive the RSSI readings. Then calculate the distance between each of the beacon and the user’s device by implementing the collected readings. 

As the beacons only indicate their positions and any hindrance, the mobile device uses the sensors embedded in it to identify the direction of a specific user´s movement. After these processes have been implemented, your app should now display the location of the beacon, and the user is getting you the exact location.  

1. Longitude and Latitudes

Latitude and longitude are used to determine the angular distance of any marked space or location from the Earth’s center. When combined, the angles develop a coordinate system that helps in getting an exact geographical location on the surface. Your app should use these coordinates to display the location of any device. Please ensure that both of these quantities are measured in degrees and minutes. 

2. Hardware

There is specific hardware required for developing a BLE beacon indoor navigation app. Beacons are the primary requirements then; you need a wireless access points system in your compound where you wish to implement your system. Such hardware is mandatory to be calibrated to the standard requirements. Every piece of hardware should be configured as per the desired output. 

a. Beacon Configuration 

The BLE beacons are required to be configured before being put to use. Several beacon manufacturing companies deliver their apps to configure the same. However, you always have the option to start your own beacon software development and configure your beacon on your terms. 

Fig: Beacon configuration   

b. Beacon Attachments

The indoor positioning system can be enhanced further by programming it to deliver an extra set of information to the users. BLE Beacons’ capacity is limited in terms of data transfer. They can only transfer data worth 31 bytes at a time. Hence, they can only be used in terms of transmitting their RSSI and determining the data. Now, to overcome such problems, beacon attachments are used that are protocols such as Eddystone and others. These attachments strengthen the usability of a beacon.  

Team Requirements

To develop BLE app, you would require a team of developers. Bluetooth app developers are the most suitable ones for this genre. However, you should discuss with your in-house team whether you want a team of freelancers or an entire BLE beacon indoor positioning system development company.  

Each of these options has advantages of its own. However, these options can make a significant impact on your project in terms of cost and quality. The generic team arrangement of a BLE app development Company for the development process consists of a project manager, a QA, mobile app developers, testers, etc. 

Cost To Develop

The crucial part of any development process is the capital involved. However, the cost is a variable and depends on various factors such as the number of features embedded in your project, selection of development team, hardware quality, etc. 

Selection of team can prove to be a significant factor as freelance will charge you on an hourly basis, and a mobile development company will charge you on the basis of the number of hours and human resources invested in your indoor navigation app. You are allowed to control the cost but remember, this is an initial investment, and the ROI will depend on the quality of the finished BLE app. Always seek quality.

Bring your Indoor Positioning System into reality

Conclusion

The future will be full of great complexes, malls, airports, and offices. Customers will rely on the indoor positioning system to find their way under the concrete roof. In hospitals and warehouses, these systems are extremely helpful in tracking the doctors and staff to deliver the proper treatment at the right time. The future of BLE beacon indoor positioning systems is promising and holds various opportunities ahead. 

If you are thinking of developing an indoor navigation app, Matellio can help you bring your dream to reality. Our team of mobile app developers has created several high-rated indoor positioning systems. With our years of professional experience, we can develop your project as per your expectations. Get in touch, and we can start right away. 

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