The Earth’s geomagnetic field is an invisible force undetectable by humans that surrounds the planet. It is generated by electric currents due to the motion of the molten iron and nickel in Earth’s outer core.
This magnetic field protects the planet from harmful radiation bombarding us from the sun and other sources in outer space.
It also helps to create the aurora borealis or northern lights. And lucky for us, it can also be used to help navigate the most complex facilities in the country, like hospitals.
Where it all started
Animals have been using the Earth’s magnetic field for a variety of purposes for eons, including navigation, orientation, and communication.
Many animals use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate long distances. For example, salmon use the magnetic field to return to their spawning grounds, and sea turtles use it to find their way back to the beaches where they hatched.
The Earth’s magnetic field is not uniform, and it varies from place to place which is what allows animals to use the magnetic field to navigate and orient themselves.
Some animals use the Earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves in their environment. For example, bees use the magnetic field to orient themselves to the sun, and birds use it to orient themselves to the Earth’s magnetic north pole.
Many species of animals such as ants and fish use the magnetic field to communicate with each other about their surroundings, potential dangers, and to lay pheromone trails during mating seasons.
The exact mechanism by which animals sense the Earth’s magnetic field is not fully understood, but it is thought to involve the presence of magnetic particles in the animal’s body.
These particles may be located in the animal’s skin, bones, or even in its brain. When the animal moves, these particles align with the Earth’s magnetic field, and the animal is able to sense this alignment.
The digital way. Wayfinding today
Looking at wayfinding today, we combine and utilize technologies that can detect the same types of sensitivities as these animals, providing us with much more nuanced and accurate navigation, and as it’s the 21st century this is often in the form of a wayfinding app or via interactive kiosks.
Using the fluctuations that are naturally occurring in the hallways of a building, we can pinpoint a standard mobile phone within a few meters. When this is overlaid on top of a functional, easy-to-follow, and understandable map of the facility, users can then be guided to the destination, without the need for GPS satellites.