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Location, location, location....!

Published on  19 November by Jim Peters , Chief Technology Officer, SITA
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While this is the mantra of product placement, its now also the buzz in the smartphone world with GPS enabled phones.

Application developers are exploring all the different things you can do with location data. There is the obvious and traditional map-based, navigation applications which use your location to tell you where you are, and if you put in a destination, how to get to where you are going. Besides these, there are a plethora of social apps focused on location such as Foursquare.com and Dwalla.com.

Parents can use applications to track their children, athletes to track their running or biking routines, and on and on. Overall, applications can provide what is called "Location Based Services" (LBS), where the user's location is part of the information used to do something useful. Classic examples include targeted advertising, where you get the 10% off a cappuccino as you pass by a Starbucks.

In the air transport industry there are several interesting possibilities. While the GPS will not work so well indoors in an airport, there are other ways to use the phone to sense location.

Several airports are putting Bluetooth sensors that can keep track of Bluetooth-enabled devices. They don't log-in to your phone but merely probe for a Bluetooth device's unique ID and use that to correlate where the device is sensed and when, allowing things like queue management for lines at check-in and security.

The phone's GSM and Wi-Fi components can also be used to triangulate a device's position, by measuring relative signal strength between cell towers and access points.

This kind of sensing is anonymous, in that all you know is a device with a unique ID, and it would have to be augmented in some way to map that to an individual person.

SITA Lab is looking at a couple of research projects in this area to see "what is possible?" There are both technical and nontechnical questions to ask, including:

  • How accurate are these different sensing techniques?
  • What level of passengers in an airport have a smartphone with Bluetooth/Wi-Fi?
  • How can the location be enabled on the phone to provide LBS when inside an airport?
  • What are the privacy concerns and how can these be managed by making users anonymous, or asking them to opt-in via an app on the phone?
  • What kind of analysis can be done on location data, especially when integrated with flight information to understand who came in/out at what gates?

Stay tuned ... we will have more to follow in the coming weeks...

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