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The future of mobile phone technology to be tested in historic Georgian Bath


The historic city of Bath in England will become the scene of a city-wide wireless computing network as part of a research project that could influence the future of mobile phone technology across the globe.

The £1.6 million Cityware project, based at the University of Bath, will turn the city centre into a ‘pervasive’ computing zone where users have access to computer services wherever they are and at all times, without disrupting Bath’s famous 18th century Georgian architecture.

This will include pioneering technology that allows people to accurately find their way round the city, interactive city-wide games and cultural activities, and information services people can use when working, socialising and relaxing.

During the project, volunteers will be able to access some of the advanced applications and services likely to be appearing on mobile phones, laptops and hand-held computers in years to come.

“As well as working with residents and visitors to Bath, one of the innovative strands of the project is the involvement of a cohort of 30 volunteers who live in the city so that we can explore how people use technology over a period of time,” said Dr Danaë Stanton Fraser from the University’s Department of Psychology, one of the investigators on the project.

“Volunteers will be given state-of-the-art mobile phones and will work with the project over the next three years to see how these technologies affect their lives. They will also provide feedback on our new applications”.

Their preferences will guide the world’s high-technology firms in how to develop the next generations of applications available on devices such as mobile phones, hand-held computers and laptops.

“Pervasive technology that is available to everyone, everywhere and at all times promises to be the next big leap in mobile computing technology”, said Dr Eamonn O’Neill from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath who is leading the project.

“It will open up a new range of technology-based services that will help people in their everyday lives, and will also explore the use of mobile and pervasive technologies to improve the ways that members of the community connect with each other.

“Cities are where there is likely to be the greatest demand for this kind of technology, so it is important that we look at the technology in a city-wide context, and improve our understanding of the effect this kind of technology will have on people’s lives.”

One of the first new services that will be available through the Cityware project is a new location recognition tool that uses the photographs people take of buildings to help them find where they are.

They simply send their photograph to a central server which compares their picture with a database of images to recognise where they are; it then sends them information about the history of the building and other local points of interest.

They can also upload the information and pictures to a website that charts their travels through the city.

The Cityware project will make use of wireless networks, Bluetooth and Near Field Communication at different locations across the city. Researchers will be able to measure the volunteers’ usage of these technologies, as well as looking at other key issues like security and privacy.

One of the reasons why Bath was chosen is that, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city attracts millions of visitors each year and the researchers will learn more about how to embed the technology without disrupting the appearance of the city.

Bath & North East Somerset Council are closely involved with these aspects of the project and are also helping ensure that it will provide the kinds of services that will be of use to local people and visitors.

“The Cityware project will help us to develop a set of principles which will guide the design and implementation of future city-scale pervasive systems,” said Dr O’Neill.

“A successful city-scale system will need significant advances in areas such as designing better phone interfaces, making phones ’aware’ of their surroundings and locations, and ensuring that your phone automatically ’knows’ which services are available to you in different parts of the city.

“This will help people manage the demands on their attention and make best use of the cityscape and its digital services.”

Cllr Colin Darracott, Bath & North East Somerset Council Executive Member for Economic Development, said: "I am absolutely delighted that this project is being launched in Bath. We should be taking advantage of the latest technology to enhance communications to benefit all those who live in, work in and visit the area.

“This project is a great example of how Bath & North East Somerset Council can support our superb academic partners and private sector expertise.

"It also fits well with this authority’s long-term strategic Vision for Bath which aims to secure economic and social prosperity."

Partners on the project include: Imperial College London and University College London, Vodafone, Nokia, HP Laboratories, Node and IBM.

The project is funded by a £1.2 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and contributions worth £400,000 from the industrial partners.

The researchers are currently recruiting for the cohort of 30 volunteers to work with the project. For information on getting involved, people should contact Dr Tim Jones in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath.

The University of Bath is one of the UK’s leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. In 16 subject areas the University of Bath is rated in the top ten in the country. View a full list of the University’s press releases:

Andrew McLaughlin | EurekAlert!
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