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Scholars develop protocol for 'LBS,' new wireless internet technology

To some, the ability to track the movements of family members using cell phones equates to a violation of privacy.

Others - particularly parents, who already are tapping the new technology to keep tabs on their kids - view it as a convenient way to ensure their children's safety in an increasingly ominous world.

Regardless of who's right or wrong, one thing is certain: In the not-too-distant future, Location Based Services, or LBS, will become as ubiquitous as cell phones are today. And the new technology is expected to change the way we do business, interact with each other and navigate through our daily lives.

"Location Based Services are the new face of the wireless Internet,"
says T. John Kim, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois.

Kim, along with U. of I. postdoctoral fellow Sung-Gheel Jang, developed the protocol for the international standard for Geographic Information Systems, described by the U. of I. professor as "the backbone" of LBS. Earlier this year, the standard created by Kim and Jang was adopted and published by the International Organization for Standardization as ISO 19134.

Kim said LBS, introduced on cell phones in Korea and Japan, and just becoming available in the U.S., function through a combination of GIS; information, positioning, and Intelligent Transportation Systems

(ITS) technologies; and the Internet.

"LBS combine hardware devices, wireless communication networks, geographic information and software applications that provide location-related guidance for customers," Kim said. "It differs from mobile position determination systems such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in that Location Based Services provide much broader, application-oriented location services."

While cars or hand-held electronic devices equipped with GPS may be useful when trying to get from one place to another, LBS go beyond providing routes and directions, functioning much the same way as a hotel concierge.

"For instance," Kim said, "if it's my wife's birthday, and on my way home from the office I need to pick up a birthday cake and a dozen roses, I would want to know not only where is the nearest bakery and floral shop, but where is the cheapest - or the right - place to find these things that I want."

The technology can be adapted for a wide range of other functions, he said, ranging from relaying locations of people requiring emergency assistance to first responders to providing alerts about traffic congestion.

Kim said the "proactive" decision by the research and standards communities and consumer-products manufacturers to come together and establish an industry standard for LBS before the market is flooded with devices offering concierge services is somewhat unusual, but highly practical.

"It's about trying to save a tremendous amount of money," he said.

"Usually when something is coming into the market - take for instance the Beta/VHS video formats - there's a lot of duplication and waste for consumers." In this case, "there's a huge market coming in, so there was agreement that we'd better get started ahead of time.

"My goal is to provide efficient service at the least cost."

To date, Kim said, 29 nations have endorsed the new ISO standard for adoption.

Melissa Mitchell | University of Illinois
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