A story about mapping mobile phone usage on a city level appeared on Slashdot recently. It looks like a great project. I would expect information about cell phone usage linked to location to be of interest not only to city planners, but mobile operators and application developers as well. I think my PDF renderers are choking and not displaying all the data they should from those documents they have linked off the project page. When I think about location based services I think about getting lat and long info out of a phone to feed into some system. But this is an interesting twist on that which looks at context and not just abstract location. In some cases the abstract info is interesting, in other cases it’s much more interesting to know that the person was in the mall at the time. When we talk about “situated software” the context of the operation comes up very frequently, there’s an assumption that at some point the devices might be able to know something about where they are. There are a few different techniques:
- Near field wireless technologies that might be able to pick up information about the environment
- Mappings of general geolocation info into contexts via a database either on the device or an online service
- Using the image sensor in a cameraphone to pick up the info via occasional samples
Projects like this, which collect the data for the purpose of city planning and could concievably be underwritten as a public work, might actually end up in the public domain. I would love to see basic bits of infrastructure end up freely accessable by the developers who need it. So projects like this that address a current need of city planning while producing as a by-product information that can help innovation down the line, it makes me happy. I just hope that’s the way this turns out.