I think ArcGIS Indoors has a good possibility to improve building management and convenience for [other buildings] that many people pass through because of IPS—for example, airports, universities, conferences, hospitals, or train stations
German Universities Explore Indoor Mapping System Capabilities for Wayfinding Improvement
Around the world, universities' expansion is leading to campuses that are larger and more complex for students, staff, and visitors to navigate. Given that students spend a large amount of their time indoors for their studies, spatial analysis offers the opportunity to enhance campus spaces and improve wayfinding capabilities.
As longtime Esri institutional license users, both the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (FHWS) and University of Applied Sciences Dresden (HTW) offer students geoinformation-related degree programs. Students from both universities recently explored the benefits and possibilities of ArcGIS Indoors, a complete system for indoor mapping. Students sought to investigate techniques to implement ArcGIS Indoors and how it could create a common operating picture of university buildings. Based on their research, students proceeded to design an app. The app provides campus navigation, routing, and location sharing resources university-wide.
"Indoor mapping is a common topic for all universities, because we all have campuses where we spend a lot of time, especially indoors," says Jan Wilkening, education coordinator for Esri Germany and a professor at FHWS since 2019. "And it is fun for students to cover this topic in a bachelor thesis, because they focus on their everyday life and not on something that is abstract or far away."
Exploring the Possibilities of Indoor Mapping
Students at the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (FHWS) and University of Applied Sciences Dresden (HTW) conducted indoor mapping and routing research using ArcGIS Indoors.
Student research resulted in the creation of apps to help students and faculty in wayfinding at complex campuses.
"We [had had] our own campus information system for about five years, and I was curious about comparing and testing the techniques of Esri, about data modeling, and about the possibilities I later saw in the indoor positioning system," Schäffner says.
Schaeffner offered the topic to several students for them to work on in their projects or bachelor theses. Together they explored ArcGIS Indoors capabilities by looking at the building's data in the Indoors system and comparing it to the data in the existing campus information system that Schäffner had developed. The building used for the research is complex and comprises five structures from different construction eras. Making these comparisons involves changing the data between the two systems to perform accurate modeling of their building. From there, Schäffner has begun preparing their network for routing and for making prototypes. The goal is to enhance the existing FHWS campus information system with improved functionalities and capabilities through the ArcGIS Indoors framework.
"[The goal] is to know, 'Where am I?' and in combination with the routing—'How’ can I get to my searched room?'" continues Schäffner. "Another scenario [for the technology] is to find assets. In the end, we want to have a routing app, but we also want to test the technique and its possibilities and currency. It's not only the result. It's the interest of the technique."
By having this application, FHWS students and researchers can later explore further questions with optimizing indoor positioning technology, how to realize it, and other geographic information system (GIS) topics for indoor applications.
Schäffner and Wilkening agree that there are several benefits that make working with ArcGIS Indoors very attractive, such as the ability to create products like web-based campus information systems. Another benefit to ArcGIS Indoors is that the technology provides the opportunity to investigate research questions such as which factors influence position accuracy.
Part of the research included the collaboration between Schäffner; Wilkening; and Joshua Porzler on his thesis, who was pursuing a bachelor's degree in geovisualization at FHWS. Porzler's bachelor’s thesis focused on integrating the existing indoor positioning system (IPS) with ArcGIS Indoors on campus, utilizing between three and four Bluetooth beacons per room and corridor.
"Our campus is very complex. . . . I think it's a difficult environment, and I hope that the result will be an IPS which works so [that] new students or professors from other universities can find their way around our campus," says Porzler. "You can learn a lot [about indoor mapping] from using ArcGIS Indoors and the function of IPS because there are many different solutions you can try, especially at a university."
Schäffner's and Wilkening's research is ongoing, and Porzler completed his thesis in April 2021.
Another use case was explored by HTW student Ricardo Roch in his bachelor's thesis, entitled "Building a Routable Network for Indoor Navigation with ArcGIS Indoors." Like at many complex campuses with multiple buildings and room numbers, wayfinding was challenging at HTW. After seeing a presentation on ArcGIS Indoors, Roch saw an opportunity to use the technology to address the campus's navigational challenges.
In a 10-week time frame, Roch created a web and mobile navigation app for a campus building. Roch explored different data formats (CAD drawings, Revit models, and 3D buildings) to determine which would be best for visualizing the information and which could be published through ArcGIS Online for the desktop and mobile wayfinding applications. His thesis project tested indoor mapping in both 2D and 3D and looked for performance differences between desktop and mobile devices. Moreover, Roch incorporated a unique routing system for emergency escape paths and identified wheelchair-accessible directions. Roch's work earned him the Esri Young Scholar Award Germany for 2020.
"It's really brilliant to get an experience like this, to use this software in a thesis, and I like it because it's a very intuitive tool," Roch says. "Now I think it's time to use this technology and to do more research on it. I see the future in indoor navigation, because we can get our position outside precisely but we are kind of lost indoors. Therefore, it's time to use and prove these technologies."
Roch completed his bachelor's thesis in February 2020 and has entered a master's program with University of Applied Sciences Dresden. For his master's thesis, Roch plans to explore facility management with ArcGIS Indoors. He hopes that his bachelor's thesis can serve as a starting point for other students who see the value in indoor mapping and want to apply more widely.
Beyond Theory—What's Next for ArcGIS Indoors
Both Roch and Porzler presented a thesis showcasing that indoor navigation technology could be a solution to meet wayfinding challenges. Both also saw opportunities for indoor mapping to create collaboration and expansion with noncampus entities such as airports and hospitals.
"I think it's really good for collaboration and big research projects because ArcGIS Indoors has very good performance," Roch continues. "For other students, I can say it's so interesting to work with ArcGIS Indoors, and [I] recommend it. Don't be afraid to use this software, because everything can work if you want it to, and if [you need assistance], you have Esri contacts at your university who can help."
Porzler adds that if more universities explore ArcGIS Indoors for different projects, they will find an opportunity to see it grow in functionalities as a result of student collaboration and challenges being shared.
But in a larger context, Porzler sees the technology growing beyond campuses, for business use as a cost- and time-saving tool.
"I think ArcGIS Indoors has a good possibility to improve building management and convenience for [other buildings] that many people pass through because of IPS—for example, airports, universities, conferences, hospitals, or train stations," Porzler says. "It is a great solution, especially if they are already using Esri technology, and I think there will be a lot more functions in ArcGIS Indoors in the [coming] months, years, and decades."
For now, both universities will continue to provide students with diverse research opportunities like indoor mapping as well as access to the latest GIS technologies to foster growth in the future of geoinformation and location-based sciences.