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Bringing combined positioning and communications technologies to market

British police officers, Italian fire fighters and Greek taxi drivers are amongst the many users testing innovative location-based services under the LIAISON project. The results could mark a coming of age for converging communications and positioning technologies.

LIAISON is one of the largest current initiatives to develop and implement a new generation of location-based services (LBS) for the professional market. The project approach, based on what is called 'enhanced assisted GPS', is designed to improve the speed, accuracy and reliability of existing GPS systems, allowing a whole new range of time, cost and life-saving services to be developed.

The three-and-a-half year initiative involves more than 30 partners from 10 European countries and, after an extensive test programme commencing in November 2006, should result in several commercial systems. Some applications are likely to be on the market before the project ends in April 2008.

The first tests involve deploying location-based services to aid remote workers for French broadcast service provider TDF, and also to enhance data collection for Ama, a waste management company in Rome. The second set of trials, which are scheduled to begin May 2007, entail assisting maintenance workers for Spanish electricity supplier Endesa, and operating an automated dispatch system for taxi drivers in Greece. In the third test phase, beginning January 2008, LBS will be implemented for the Sussex police force in the United Kingdom and for fire fighters in Italy.

“The last two trials will be the most demanding in terms of performance requirements, and will be the definitive test of our approach to deploying LBS for professionals,” says LIAISON coordinator Rémi Challamel of Alcatel Space in France.

Armed with a mobile terminal such as a smart phone, PDA or notebook computer linked to the LIAISON system, police officers and fire fighters could respond more quickly to an incident and control centres would be able to better manage emergencies. “In the event of a terrorist attack at an airport, emergency response coordinators could track police officers at all times and be able to quickly cordon off the area. In the event of a hospital fire, fire fighters could pinpoint precisely the source of the blaze and better manage the evacuation of patients,” Challamel explains.

The key difference between the enhanced assisted GPS being implemented by LIAISON and standard GPS is a '“substantial” improvement in every aspect of the location-based services, the coordinator notes. By combining GPS with an external server to refine the raw location data, LIAISON can pinpoint a person's location to within one or two meters, compared to a variation of up 20 meters that is common with standard GPS, especially when someone is moving. The EU’s Galileo positioning system could further improve performance.

“Even more importantly, a user can pick up the signal and identify their location within seconds, not minutes, and the system works even in the most challenging environments, such as in urban canyons surrounded by high buildings or in dense forests,” Challamel says. “We are also working on techniques to provide LBS inside buildings.”

While for outdoor use the LIAISON system relies on a combination of GPS and mobile communications technologies, inside buildings WiFi can be used for accurate location mapping.

In the trials, user terminals employing the Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) standard will be used, while the services themselves will be designed for each specific user community. “A police officer has different needs to a taxi driver, so different services need to be developed even if the core components of the system remain the same,” he explains.

Though much of the project team’s work is focused on refining and testing the technology, they are also tackling other challenges that have hindered wider LBS deployment to date. The LIAISON partners held a joint workshop in September 2006 together with the team from ISHTAR, another IST initiative working on the harmonisation and standardisation of LBS technologies. The workshop focused primarily on defining new business models and analysing current market trends.

Challamel is confident that LBS will take off over the coming years, with the professional market likely to account for 70 percent of initial demand. From there, he expects positioning systems to be the next big thing for mobile users in the mass market, just as mobile phones equipped with cameras and MP3 players have been the must-haves of recent years.

Jernett Karensen | alfa
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