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Navigation Module for Inside Buildings in Development

Tablet with Smartsense Sensor displaying interior navigation (Fraunhofer IPA)

Tablet with Smartsense Sensor displaying interior navigation (Fraunhofer IPA)

Engineers at four Fraunhofer institutes and five companies in Germany are building a module for smartphones to help people navigate inside interior spaces, much like a GPS works when outside. The researchers plan to give a demonstration of the MST-Smartsense Sensor (pictured at right) at the Sensor+Test trade fair in Nuremberg held 22-24 May 2012.

The team from the Fraunhofer Institutes for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA), Modular Solid State Technologies, Reliability and Microintegration, and Electronic Nano Systems are partnering with counterparts at Robert Bosch GmbH, Bosch Sensortec GmbH, Binder Elektronik GmbH, AEMtec GmbH, and Sensitec GmbH on the project. The engineers have developed a sensor module for navigating interior spaces that is the size of a fingernail, and thus small enough for use in a smartphone or tablet.

The MST-Smartsense Sensor works something like a pedometer, in that it registers how fast and how far a person is walking, but also the direction that person is walking. Also unlike conventional pedometers, this module does not need to be pre-programmed with an individual’s height or length of stride.

The new module uses a series of sensors including an acceleration sensor that tracks the motion of the body, and a magnetic field sensor that measures the alignment of the body through its position in relation to the earth’s magnetic field. Working together they can map a precise pattern of movement. The MST-Smartsense Sensor has software already programmed with the stride patterns of people of various heights and leg lengths, and the sensors match the movements of the person using the module with those patterns in the software to gauge stride length.

A GPS for internal spaces also needs to know the structure and layout of that interior space. The MST-Smartsense Sensor is set up to download 3-D building maps. The developers envision buildings posting two-dimensional QR codes that smartphones with the sensor module can scan to access those plans. When combined with the precise location from the module’s movement sensors, the maps in the navigation module can provide the individual’s precise location, as well as ideal walk route if desired.

IPA’s project manager Harald von Rosenberg says the device is engineered to use a minimum amount of power, always a concern for smartphones. “Unlike what we typically find,” says von Rosenberg, “the MST-Smartsense Sensor can be installed directly into a smartphone or tablet computer without any additional elements.” He notes that the module uses its own small processor that needs substantially less power, thus relieving the smartphone’s battery.

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