Net your Friends in Real-Time using Tracking Devices

Shoes at Pawas
Imagine yourself using a cell phone to pinpoint the exact location of your car whenever you forget where you parked it. Use the car navigation system to avoid the traffic jams and choose other less clogged up routes. Get alerts when anyone of your friends comes within a mile of your location, If you don't feel like picking your aunt at the wee hours of the night from the airport, then send her a map of the route to your home on her PDA. These may sound like wishful fantasies but the reality is that most of them have already been implemented. Location aware computing is the evolving technology that is making all these and more plausible.

Location aware computing is essentially an integration of location sensing, mobile computing and wireless networking technologies, Through location sensing technologies such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), one can pin-point the user of a device. Mobile computing devices such as PDAs, cell phones etc provide information and communication capabilities but are net aware of the context in which they operate. Context-aware, the hottest feature of location- based computing, refers to the special capability to recognize and react to a real-world on the basis of two main factors: user identity and current physical location.

To understand the differences, assume you want to know the location of a restaurant from your present position. A simple mobile computing device can give you an exact map of one such spot but a location aware system may also be able to tell you which nearby restaurant is most frequently visited by your friends and offers the most discounts.

The main idea behind location aware computing is to be able to track every movement of individuals whether they are outdoors or indoors. For outdoor tracking, the most widely used means are the GPS and the existing cellular networks, which have an accuracy range of 5 to 20 meters. Since GPS requires a line of sight with the satellites it isn't used to for indoor tracking. To track a person indoors, wireless networking technologies such as Wi-Fi and the Ultra wideband are utilized. A Finnish company Ekahau has developed indoor tracking software for users of Wi-Fi enabled PDAs and laptops.

Japan leads the world in offering location-based services with telecommunication companies such as KDDI offering over 100 different services to its customers in association with the wireless equipment maker Qualcomm. It is estimated that more than two million Koreans locate their friends and arrange meetings using such services. The Federal Communications Commission of the United States has made it mandatory that by December 2005 all cellular carriers must be able to locate callers, especially those who dial the emergency number 911, with an accuracy of 50 to 100 meters. Also the technology is not limited only to cell phones or PDAs but even fashion accessories have been developed that are capable of tracking their owners. For example, Qualcomm offers a bracelet fitted with a location based system through which parents can track the movements of their children.

Although the future sounds exciting there are some major concerns about privacy. You might not mind allowing one of your family members or friends to know where you are at any given time but would you want advertisers to know so they bombard you with discount offers? A unified standard to track people is also required as there are many location-finding tools available. Once all these concerns are addressed, location aware computing will revolutionize the way we interact.


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