Scientists and staff at the new Francis Crick Institute in London will be able to negotiate their way around Europe's biggest biomedical laboratory with the help of a web-based wayfinding app. It applies 'blue-dot' navigation, familiar from systems such as Google Maps, to create an indoor positioning system. For the first time in the UK, this has been achieved using the existing Wi-Fi network, rather than using a separate system.
With nearly 1,500 staff moving from four different sites into a brand new building of 1,553 rooms and a floor area covering nearly 93,000 m2, navigating around the Crick laboratory building could be a particular challenge. The app has been designed to make it easier for researchers and staff to find their way around the building as they move in, enabling them to settle in effectively.
Alison Davis, Director of IT&S at the Crick, said: "The Crick's vision includes being bold and imaginative, and we want our approach to digital technology to reflect that. To the best of our knowledge, we believe we are the first organisation in the UK to have implemented indoor navigation capability from a Wi-Fi network."
Shopping centres, hospitals and airports are some of the public places that have already benefited from indoor wayfinding apps, but unlike the Crick's app, they are powered by iBeacons or QR codes via Bluetooth technology. iBeacons technology has faced a number of drawbacks such as inaccurate real-time positioning, poor battery life, and erratic beacon signals.
The Crick's new app will address these limitations as it can generate the moving 'blue dot' from an internal Wi-Fi network. Over 300 Wi-Fi access points distributed across the Crick will provide users with seamless connectivity as they walk around the building, creating the Crick's own internal GPS-style solution.
The Crick Wayfinder features floor plans and the ability to search for people's rooms or laboratories as well as points of interest, such as shared scientific equipment and printers. The app determines the user's geographical location on each floor to the accuracy of 5-7m and will display a step-by-step route to wherever the user wants to go.
The app will take into account the most suitable route by sticking to the main corridors, conscious not to disturb those working in the nearby labs. It also offers wheelchair-friendly routes.
The app will not take users to another person, only to their lab area, and will not track staff members' movement. The app will only be accessible to members of staff and only when they are on site. However, those visiting the building will be able to take advantage of the service from the main reception desk.
The new wayfinding app will be accessible through a web browser, meaning the user does not have to download any software to their devices. The web-based app also has the advantage of being accessible across desktops, tablets and mobile phones.
The networking capabilities for the Crick Lab have been installed by Block Solutions in partnership with Cisco, including the introduction of Cisco's Mobility Services Engine (MSE). The website itself has been developed by 22 Miles, a digital signage solutions company based in the USA, whose platform provides direct integration to the Crick Cisco MSE system. Importantly, this platform also enables the Crick Wayfinder to be responsive to any changes in the building layout, by providing the supporting team with the capability for 1-click publishing of any changes.
While the need to navigate a new building will be particularly relevant to staff in the first few months, the Crick team are keen to build on the capabilities of the app and to produce further releases. For example, it could be linked to an equipment booking system, to identify in real time which pieces of equipment are available for use.