The land ministry on Thursday started testing a smartphone app that provides detailed navigation services in underground areas around Tokyo Station.

Any Android smartphone user can download the free app, named Japan Smart Navi, during a pilot study, which runs through March 6. The app will be in Japanese only.

Currently, finding directions on smartphones is difficult in underground areas where there is no GPS signal.

Commercial navigation apps are not good enough, with indoor maps provided as a pay service or provided free of charge only for crowded areas, according to the ministry.

The government wants to change this ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, aiming to remove “information barriers” for anyone visiting the metropolis.

The ministry’s test covers areas surrounding Tokyo Station, including the Marunouchi, Yurakucho, Ginza and Yaesu districts. It has set up 300 “beacons” — devices that enable the positioning and mapping of indoor facilities.

The app, downloadable through the Google Play store, provides such information as the positions of restaurants and other destinations close to the user. It also shows the best routes and distances, as well as the locations of ticket gates and coin lockers.

After collecting feedback from users, the ministry will expand the areas for similar services to cover major Olympic venues. In the coming fiscal year starting April 1, an English-language app will also be tested, a ministry official said.

A panel of experts under the ministry is discussing opening the network to commercial operators in the future, the official added.

The ministry aims to officially launch the services in 2018.

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