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Indoor Mapping: The Basics

/images/blog/the-basics-around-indoor-mapping-white.jpg May 2021

5 min

Indoor mapping key concepts

When most people think about creating an outdoor map, they imagine drawing some lines on a page or typing an address into their phone. In reality, there are a number of considerations which go into making a map which will meet your needs.

This holds true when thinking about indoor maps. Organizations large and small, both public and private, are discovering how valuable indoor maps can be. The most common use case is to help visitors and building occupants find their way from place to place. However, they can also be used to aid facility teams with asset tracking, to provide a backdrop for data visualization, or even combined with other technology for workforce management.

When beginning an indoor mapping project, it is important to understand the different terminology used. Terms such as indoor mapping, wayfinding, indoor positioning and navigation indoors can seem overwhelming and confusing to someone new to the topic. However, understanding the differences will make it easier to collaborate with the different stakeholders involved. 

We’ve created this overview to help new users familiarize themselves and make more informed decisions as they create an indoor map for their organization.

What is Indoor Mapping 

Your indoor map is the foundation of every wayfinding project. An indoor map takes your floorplans and converts them into a digital interface you can interact with to better understand the layout and dimensions of the space. Whereas a floorplan is strictly two-dimensional, an indoor map will allow you to pan around and rotate with ease, and to zoom in and explore areas where you wish to see greater detail.  

Indoor maps can be created by converting existing architectural or engineering plans, or they can be drawn by hand using an indoor mapping design studio interface. You start by identifying basic details such as walls, doorways, elevators, and stairwells. From there, you can add in more information like place names and locations of points of interest.

What is Wayfinding

Wayfinding is the next level of interaction overlaid on your indoor map. Wayfinding is the process by which a person navigates through the physical environment to find their way from one place to another.

For indoor mapping projects, wayfinding means moving within the building and between buildings or places of interest. Your indoor map can allow you to specify the best routes to take, and to customize these for the individual user. For example, you may want to suggest one route for visitors, restricting them to common areas, and a different pathway for building occupants who have greater access to controlled areas of the building. You can provide wayfinding guidance through your website or app, via onsite displays or kiosks, or by using signage.

Wayfinding is now a part of visitor experience whether you are navigating an office building, an hospital, a university, a convention center or a theme park. 

What is Indoor Positioning

Indoor positioning is a technology which allows users to accurately pinpoint the location of people or places inside a building, using any device in real time. For example, it can help the user understand whether they are in the right building and on the right floor, and how much farther they need to go to arrive at their chosen point of interest. 

Indoor positioning can be offered through two different mechanisms. The one which comes to mind is using an indoor positioning system (IPS) to track where individuals are located while they are using the wayfinding tool. In an outdoor venue, this is usually done using GPS technology. Unfortunately, the technological constraints of GPS prevent it from working well indoors. Therefore, creating an indoor positioning system requires a custom installation, choosing from a variety of technologies. For examples, beacons, Wi-Fi, Li-Fi, ultrasonic devices, the Earth’s magnetic field, and sensor fusion are some of the technologies that can help users find their position inside a building. 

The reality of indoor positioning is that it does not always work well. The most common barrier is the requirement to install expensive hardware to make it fully functional. For users who desire a less expensive solution, the alternative for indoor positioning is to use QR codes. Signage with QR codes can be deployed inexpensively at waypoints, and map users can scan them as needed to update their position on their maps.

What is Indoor Navigation

Indoor navigation combines IPS technology with wayfinding, showing a blue dot moving with the user in real-time. Navigation is most commonly used on outdoor maps, when using outdoor mapping apps like Google Maps or Waze. We see a blue dot or icon which represents ourselves, and that blue dot moves along the identified route in alignment with our position. The blue dot is always visible and active, pausing when we stop, and speeding up as we go faster. Outdoor navigation is powered by GPS systems.

On an indoor map, blue dot navigation recreates this experience using an Indoor Positioning System (IPS). The IPS uses a mesh network of beacons or signals in connection with a personal device. The personal device uses information from the IPS network to track the user’s position in and around the building in real-time. This flow of data allows the personal device to always show the current position on the route.

Understanding which indoor mapping technology is right for you

When planning your indoor mapping project, the cost and complexity can vary significantly depending on which solution you choose. This is particularly true as you move towards any solution which requires the installation and maintenance of third-party products like beacons, sensors, or transmitters. It is important to think carefully about who will use your map, and for what purpose. Oftentimes, an accurate indoor map combined with wayfinding is enough to meet an organization’s needs. This article: How to choose an indoor mapping solution might help you.

Indoor maps are designed to be flexible and easy to update. You may find it best to start with the foundation and build in new functionality over time, as your needs change or your budget increases. For more information on how to create a great interactive map experience, you might also want to read our 10 key points to help you on your way.

Margot SOULIER's photo


Margot SOULIER, CMO & Partnerships Manager

With over 10 years experience in B2B marketing and communication, and with a passion for new technologies, Margot manages the Marketing team at Mapwize. The combination of her experience and her focus on customer needs enables her to have a better strategic vision. Digital marketing, social media, editorial content and brand value are at the heart of her concerns and hold no more secrets for her.