How many of you have been to Las Vegas? Were I ask this question in a reader-filled room, I’d bet a majority would raise your hands, thanks to all the trade-show action there. How many of you have taken the monorail to the MGM Grand? I’m guessing I’d see quite a few hands still raised. Now, how many of you have gotten off the monorail at the MGM Grand, walked through the hotel, and made it to the front door without spending at least 15 minutes horribly lost? Maybe I’d have one person still nodding yes, but he was probably just lucky.
Getting around inside the MGM—or any large hotel—can be a nightmare; so many seem to be designed like the inn described in the song “Hotel California”: You can check in any time you want, but you can never leave. And, to date, the navigation software on mobile devices hasn’t been able to help lost travelers find their way inside such GPS-signal-blocking giant buildings.
In the past year or so, a number of companies have put a lot of effort into developing technologies to fix the indoor navigation problem. Solutions take on multiple forms, including simple maps, dead reckoning software that gathers data from sensors already built into smart phones, systems that calculate location using signals from cell phone towers, planted locator beams, and preexisting WiFi hotspots.
As t turns out it’s this last approach that will likely get you out of the MGM—without retracing your steps several times—the next time you’re in Las Vegas. Because today, Lighthouse Signal Systems announced that it has mapped the WiFi signals covering the nearly 2 million square meters of casino and hotel space in the gambling mecca. The result is WiFi fingerprints that enable a mobile device to determine its location to within 5 to 7 meters. Lighthouse is making the signal map and its indoor navigation software available to Android developers for free; it expects to profit from taking a small share of location-targeted ad revenue as that market develops. And, though Lighthouse doesn’t claim to be particularly good at app development, it does have a free Android app, Lighthouse Locate, that allows consumers to beta test its system. (Lighthouse Locate is available on Google Play.)
One small step for indoor navigation, one giant leap towards ensuring that even if you happen to get lost in Vegas you won't stay lost in Vegas.
Photo: Lighthouse Signal Systems
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.