Gatwick Airport now has 2,000 beacons for indoor navigation

Complex indoor environments such as airports and shopping malls can be a nightmare to find your way around. And while Google is eyeing smartphones with 3D sensors as one potential fix for places GPS won’t accurately reach, another approach is to kit out an interior with lots of Bluetooth beacons — giving smartphone users located-locked pings to fix onto to know where they are.

The UK’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, has opted for the latter approach to power an indoor navigation system it’s launching as part of a wider, multi-year transformation program.

It’s now finished kitting out its two terminals with around 2,000 battery-powered beacons so that digital map users will get a more accurate blue dot as they wander around. The beacon system will also be used to power an augmented reality wayfinding tool (pictured above) — so that mobile users will be able to be guided to specific locations within the terminals via on-screen arrows. The beacon system is slated as supporting positioning with +/-3m accuracy.

Gatwick is planning to integrate indoor positioning into some of its apps, and says it’s in discussions with airlines to tap into it for their own apps and services — giving example of them being able to send push notifications to warn passengers if they’re running late, or even make a decision on whether or not to wait or offload luggage so an aircraft can take off on time.

Retailers and other third parties will also be able to use the system for proximity detection of potential shoppers and push marketing messages and offers — at least to those who have opted in to receive them.

Gatwick says it will not be collecting any personal data via the beacons but says “generic information on ‘people densities’ in different beacon zones” will be used to help improve airport operations — such as queue measurement, streamlining passenger flows and reducing congestion.

The airport has worked with UK startup Pointr on the system. As well as developing software and managing the system on an ongoing basis, Pointr is providing an SDK with support for 3D AR wayfinding to enable third parties to tap into the functionality.