Miami Children's Hospital recently launched a free iPhone app that uses Wi-Fi triangulation to help patients and their families navigate through the center.
The Fit4KidsCare app, which will be ported to other smartphone platforms, presents the user on a smartphone display as a dot on a two-dimensional map of the hospital. It even detects vertical distance for when a person is on an elevator, said Edward Martinez, CIO of the 280-bed hospital with branch facilities in Florida.
"We have pretty good signage in the hospital, but one of the biggest concerns we face is people asking for directions, so this app adds a level of customer service," he said in an interview.
Mapping apps are not new, but using triangulation with Wi-Fi access points is fairly rare and possibly unique in a hospital setting, Martinez said. Most mapping apps rely on GPS from a satellite to a cell phone or other device, which can give accuracy to within three to five meters. Cell phone carriers also rely on triangulation from three cell phone towers to enhance GPS signals.
Miami Children's used software from Cisco to set up triangulation that relies on hundreds of Wi-Fi access points, Martinez said. According to Cisco officials, the indoor Wi-Fi triangulation has been used in some museums and can bring accuracy to within one meter.
Miami Children's used Cisco's Mobile Concierge SDK, which was developed by Meridian, to create its mobile app, according to a Cisco spokeswoman. Meridian's underlying software provides turn-by-turn directions and maps within the hospital as well a cloud server that takes data from Cisco's Mobility Services Engine, a Wi-Fi real-time location server, to put a glowing blue dot on a user's smartphone map to simulate GPS indoors, according to a Meridian spokesman.
Martinez said he got the idea for the hospital app from a similar service at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. "It's a huge museum, so you use the same model to triangulate to get from the dinosaurs to the whales, so I figured the same business model could be used to go from a hospital bed to a lab," he said.
The hospital used internal and external developers working with a Cisco Application Programming Interface to build the app during the past year. After several weeks of testing with 30 users, the app went live last week.
The total cost was about $30,000. "We don't view this as a revenue generator; it is really focused toward better customer service," he said.
Eventually, Martinez hopes to connect the app to telemedicine robots that roam the hospital hallways. Today, the robots are guided by doctors and other healthcare professionals who remotely use cameras on the robots to navigate hallways turn-by-turn before the robots consult with patients.
With the Fit4KidsCare app, a doctor could direct a robot to a patient's room without having to "ride" along remotely the entire way. Eventually, robots could be used to carry lab specimens or food trays. In another future phase of development, robots could control the elevators and virtually push the buttons.
"All of these are cool things that have a significant impact on healthcare and don't require another body to do it," he said. "We've had nothing but positive results so far."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.