Startup of the Week / Inside: Like Waze for Indoor Navigation

A new app, Inside, helps users get oriented at the mall, airport or hospital using a smartphone camera.

Ever lost track of where you parked your car at the mall? Having trouble figuring out where your gate is at the airport? Well, a new Israeli application being unveiled Tuesday is out to change that, by helping users find their way indoors.

Inside, an Israeli app created by Shopcloud, aims to solve the technological challenge of navigating – as its name would suggest – inside buildings. When we’re outside, GPS can help us get from place to place, but once we enter a building, satellite communications get cut off – and for those of us who lack a sense of direction, that mean we often end up lost.

“It's happened to everyone: You’ve been walking around the mall for hours, and suddenly you realize you have no idea where you parked,” said Gil Devora, Shopcloud’s founder and CEO. “Or you're at the hospital, and you need room 117 in the maternity ward – where’s that? Or you arranged to meet someone near the café in the mall. There are countless examples of the need for indoor navigation. Just like we don’t know how we lived before the age of GPS, that’s what it’ll be like inside buildings, too.”

Founded in 2012, Shopcloud conceived of its current product almost by chance. “We were working on different solutions for retail in the digital world and began searching for a solution to navigation inside buildings," Devora said. "To our surprise, we couldn't find a single solution that was cheap, easy to use and highly accurate. So we decided to tackle this issue, which the high-tech industry has been dealing with for a long time.”

Most of the previous attempts to solve the problem of indoor navigation have been based on identifying the user’s location via a building’s Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth. The Inside app, meanwhile, took a novel approach that is based on a smartphone’s camera.

So how does it work? The first stage is for the company to map any mall or institution that agrees to let it operate on the premises; then it creates an extensive database of images. The app “peeps” through the camera to figure out where the user is and figures out which direction he or she is headed via other sensors on the smartphone. Shopcloud promises maximum accuracy, using what it has dubbed its “Ridiculously Accurate Sub Meter.”

As of now, the app is still in beta testing, and it will only be fully accessible in May.

“What’s unique about Inside is that we aren’t dependent on any hardware or installation by either the user or the building’s owner,” Devora said. “We supply the service for free, to both building owners and users, and that’s how it will always be…. Many people have expressed interest in, or joined, the service – more than we’ve been able to cope with. We’re in the Ayalon Mall [part of the Azrieli group], the Big mall chain, the Melisron malls, all the Tel Aviv municipality’s public buildings, and we’ll soon activate the service in Bloomfield Stadium, the Nokia Arena, Tel Hashomer hospital, and the Sarona Complex [in Tel Aviv], and we’re now in talks with a long list of mall chains overseas.”

Devora said the company isn’t focusing on money at the moment, but is putting the emphasis on the user experience. "Facebook also didn’t charge when it started out, and today it’s a large, profitable company,” he said.

Shopcloud employs 15 people in Tel Aviv and, to date, has raised $700,000 from private investors, including New Zealand businessman Jeremy Moon.

Click here to watch Inside's demo video.
 

Michael Bar-Zeev