Hospital opts for Wi-Fi over GPS in smartphone navigation app

Miami Children's Hospital recently launched a free iPhone app that uses Wi-Fi triangulation to help patients and their families find their way around the medical center.

The app, called Fit4KidsCare, is even designed to detect vertical distances -- a feature that's helpful for users who are riding in elevators, said Edward Martinez, CIO of the 280-bed hospital.

"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.

Fit4KidsCare will eventually be ported to other smartphones. The total cost of the initial deployment was about $30,000.

Most navigation apps rely on satellite GPS signals, which can support readings that are accurate to within three to five meters.

Miami Children's used Cisco software to set up triangulation that relies on input from hundreds of Wi-Fi access points, Martinez said. According to Cisco, its software can bring accuracy to within one meter.

Martinez said he got the idea for the app from a similar service at New York's Museum of Natural History. "You use the same model to triangulate to get from the dinosaurs to the whales," he said. "I figured the model could be used to go from a hospital bed to a lab," he said.

Eventually, Martinez hopes to connect the app to telemedicine robots that roam the hospital hallways. With that technology, he said, the robots could be used to do things like carry lab specimens or food trays.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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