At the Spring Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, California this week, Intel's R&D labs described the company's latest work on location-aware computing (LAC). Bringing together a variety of services, LAC tells a notebook computer user where they are and where to go.
As well as basic navigation, Intel says, LAC can integrate with office services to automatically select the nearest printer for a user, for example, then tell that user how to get to their hard copy. Combined with buddy services, where you can find out where your friends are, and retail, commerical and government outfits, the idea is to make the physical world and everything it offers as easy to search and navigate as the Internet itself.
In addition, Intel's research showed that an overwhelming majority of users would be willing to pay extra for laptops with the ability to report their location if they were stolen, another class of service that LAC enables.
The first generation of location-based services is already in place, with satellite navigation systems using the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation increasingly common in cars and pocket-sized units. However, Intel says, GPS doesn't work well indoors or anywhere without a view of the sky: other systems based on cellular phone networks or a building's wireless LAN work better inside but not so well outdoors.
By building what Intel calls a location fuser -- software that understands the strengths and weaknesses of each technology -- the company says it can give a notebook a "best guess" at its location that is more accurate more often than any single service can offer.
The company is also working with Microsoft's Enterprise Location Server and MapPoint .Net, to collate and distribute user and other locations -- putting people and places on maps and generating directions.
Implications for privacy
Although the technical side of this part of LAC is not particularly hard, the privacy issues are of much greater concern. Intel and other organisations, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), are building protocols to protect users from abuse of their locations. These rules, sometimes called geopriv requirements, say that users must always actively allow any use of their location and the purposes for which it could be used, the system must always report any use, it must be possible to be anonymous, and integrity, confidentiality and user authentication must be a part of any system. In addition, Microsoft says that its Enterprise Location Server never keeps records of locations: these are never logged or stored on hard disk, but have a strictly temporary life in memory only. Products based on location aware computing will become more common over the next two to four years, says Intel, often concurrently with 3G mobile networks, and will eventually be incorporated in a wide range of portable devices.