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Community / Public space

Why the indoors could be the next frontier for map-makers

Google launched a rucksack last year. No, it wasn’t another piece of Google-branded kit for its long-suffering employees: it was a piece of mapping equipment. 

The Cartographer, as the rucksack is grandly known, is a mapping device design to create maps of the insides of buildings. It’s, er, quite utilitarian in appearance:

Images: Google. 

As its wearer wanders through a building, the rucksack maps its floorplan using something called SLAM: “simultaneous localisation and mapping technology”. The user also marks important information – like room numbers or shop names on a tablet. 

Google has used the rucksack to build up a growing list of indoor maps, viewable here. Most are large indoor venues, museums or shopping centres places which often offer their own floorplan maps thanks to their size and the number of services on offer. It makes sense that these maps would eventually transfer to the digital arena, just as outdoor maps have. 

These indoor maps now appearing on Google Maps. You can see this one of the British Museum by zooming in on the building in the normal Google Maps browser:

Now, it looks like Apple wants to get in on the indoor mapping game, too – but instead of a cool backpack, Google’s rival for world dominance is planning to launch an app.

Tech journalists have come across an Apple app store item, only accessible via direct link, called the “Indoor Survey App”. According to the app description, it allows users to map indoor spaces by “dropping points”:

Enable indoor positioning within a venue using the Indoor Survey App. By dropping “points” on a map within the survey app, you indicate your position within the venue as you walk through. As you do so, the Indoor Survey App measures the radio frequency (RF) signal data and combines it with an iPhone’s sensor data. The end result is indoor positioning without the need to install special hardware.


It’s not clear whether Apple would collect this data to integrate with its maps function, as Google has, or whether it would offer internal maps separately. But either way, if both tech giants are interested, it’s safe to say indoor mapping is now A Thing. 
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.