Aruba Meridian helps 10,000 students find their way on campus
What's the best way to get from Munich to Hamburg by car? What's the quickest way to walk from the station to the zoo? Which cycle path takes you to the lake, away from the main roads? These days, all we have to do to find the answers to these questions is check a navigation system. And with our smartphones, we always have one to hand. We simply enter the destination and up appears a route that takes us straight there. GPS normally locates where the smartphone is fairly accurately, provided you're not indoors.
"But there are situations when being able to navigate with a smartphone inside buildings or building complexes would be useful," says Carsten Hellmich, Technical Project Manager at Hochschule Hannover. Which is why the network specialist and his colleagues have developed an indoor navigation system for his organisation and are currently implementing it step-by-step using technology from Aruba. That organisation is the Hochschule Hannover, University of Applied Sciences and Arts.
The Meridian based app enables users to navigate easily and safely around the campus. This benefits both students in their first semesters and visitors. Most importantly, we have created a solution that highlights easy access routes. Carsten Hellmich, Technical Project Manager, Hochschule Hannover
The University has five sites across Hannover, the state capital of Lower Saxony. In total, this amounts to more than 100,000 square metres and around 3,000 rooms. Some 10,000 students attend the University, more than 2,000 of whom are new to the campus each year. Amongst the students, there are also external employees and managers who take advantage of the University's wide range of additional and further training courses and individual events.
"At such a large university with so many students, it's not uncommon for events to be moved to different rooms at short notice. During exam seasons, for example, students might be sent to rooms in buildings they have never been to before," explains Hellmich. "There are always students hurrying around looking for the right room." To add to the confusion, some of the rooms at the University are also used by external parties for a variety of events.
Finding accessible routes from A to B
Of course, Hochschule Hannover offers a variety of tools to help students locate rooms, such as the internet-based Campus Management System. And if their rooms are changed, there will always be a note on the door of the original location to let them know, saying something like: "The mechatronics lecture with Professor Müller will be in lecture theatre four today." But how do the students now get from this room to lecture theatre four before the class begins? People with mobility issues and wheelchair users can find this especially difficult as the University has a lot of older buildings with few lifts.
"As the central service provider, we believed that providing information in this way was not in keeping with where we are in the digital age, especially when you consider that we offer almost complete Wi-Fi coverage for our students across every site," says Hellmich. Together with his colleagues, he came up with an idea for an indoor navigation system for the University that students, staff and visitors would be able to use via an app on their mobile devices.
They decided that they wanted to use the Wi-Fi infrastructure if possible, the latest version of which had been purchased from Aruba and installed just a short time before. "As we had always been very satisfied with the technology, advice and support we had received from Aruba, we were delighted to be able to work with them again on this project," says Hellmich.
Indoor Bluetooth-based navigation
Aruba's experts had told the team at the University about its Meridian platform for indoor navigation some time before the project began. It was of particular interest to Hochschule Hannover as the solution uses the Bluetooth® standard in the form of Aruba Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, which combine with the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and can be managed using the Wi-Fi access points, to precisely determine locations. It is a unique integrated solution.
Bluetooth is much better suited to indoor navigation than other wireless technologies. GPS is not very effective in indoor spaces. And with Wi-Fi, high accuracy location detection is often impossible as signals are corrupted.
Hochschule Hannover is currently working on expanding its indoor navigation infrastructure. The first buildings at one of its sites have been fitted with Aruba BLE beacons for location-based services and the first students are already using the navigation app the team has developed. By the end of the project, some 1,000 to 1,500 beacons will be in use.
During the pilot project at the largest site in Hannover, the team learnt a lot that would help them with the main rollout. For example, optimum beacon placement to provide comprehensive coverage, and what can be done when doors block the signals. Aruba's experts have also been providing advice from their own experiences.
Low expenditure on app development with Aruba Meridian
"From an IT perspective, one of the benefits of the Aruba Meridian platform was that it would save us an awful lot of effort on developing the mobile application," says Hellmich. "Without this low barrier to entry, the project would not have been possible for us at all, especially when you consider that we had to make the app compatible with a variety of devices, operating systems and versions." Hochschule Hannover's first mobile app is available now from the Google™ Play Store and Apple App Store.
Another benefit was how the Meridian platform could be connected to the building plans and room information needed for indoor navigation. Together with Aruba, the University found an interface solution it could use to automatically draw the necessary information from the relevant in-house systems into the Meridian Mobile App Platform.
Early feedback on the indoor navigation app from students and staff has been positive. "The users can navigate easily and safely," says Hellmich, happily. "This benefits both students in their first semesters and visitors who don't know our rooms. But most importantly, we have created a solution that highlights easy access routes. This brings us one step closer to our goal of being a fully-accessible university."
Additional services alongside navigation
The technology is still being implemented at a steady pace, but the team at the University is already thinking about how they can use the Aruba Meridian platform for other purposes. "We are not even close to using all of the options Meridian offers for indoor navigation," says Hellmich. "For example, we might want to use it to provide information about our various services in future, such as the IT Service Desk: What do they do? When and how can you contact them?" If a student with an IT problem needs to find the onsite IT Service Desk, they can bring up the navigation system straight away.
Other information students might be interested in could also be integrated into the app, such as menus for the cafeterias or public transport stop maps, which could in turn easily be linked to the timetables. Hellmich concludes, "The Aruba Meridian solution gives us the opportunity to provide students, staff and visitors with useful information while they are at Hochschule Hannover, and then connect this with positioning and location services."
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