04:57 PM

Duke University Creates 'Micro-Blog' System For Mobile Phones

The experimental phone network uses geo-tagged data, mobile social networking, and "virtual sticky notes" to send and receive real-time information.

Duke University's Mobile Micro-Blog

Duke University's Mobile Micro-Blog
(click image for larger view)

If you're planning to go to the beach, you can use your smartphone to get directions and check the weather. But if you want to know how full the parking lot is, or if the beach is full of rowdy teenagers, then you're out of luck.

Duke University is looking to change that, and researchers have developed software that would let you use your mobile phone to ask people at the beach for real-time information or tell others what's happening there.

The application, dubbed Micro-Blog, lets users obtain real-time, location-specific information from other mobile phone users. It uses multiple sensors in the phone to combine mobile social networking with location-based services, and it adds the ability to leave what they call "virtual sticky notes" on specific sites.

Users of the Micro-Blog application can enter information -- photos, comments, videos -- into their mobile phone, and the information will be tagged with a geographic location. Other information also can be recorded. All the information is then sent to a central server, where it's available to all participants.

The geo-tagged notes could have multiple applications, lead researcher Romit Roy Choudhury said in an interview. For example, a user could tag a Chinese restaurant with a review of the kung pao chicken. Others could see the review overlaid on Google Maps on their mobile phones. That same review could pop up on other users' screens when they enter the restaurant.

Cell phones are increasingly becoming equipped with sensors like GPS, video cameras, microphones, and accelerometers. Roy Choudhury said these sensors can be used to create a lens into the user's environment.

"Micro-blogs will provide unprecedented levels and amounts of information literally at your fingertips no matter where you are, through your mobile phone," said Roy Choudhury, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.

Along with the virtual sticky notes, the application can act like other mobile social networks, such as Loopt. For instance, when a friend appears nearby, the user can be alerted. Potentially, advertisers could use similar software to offer consumers location-relevant deals and information.

But there are some issues with the application that still need to be addressed. An important one is user privacy, and Roy Choudhury said the Micro-Blog application is very configurable and an anonymization system will ensure that individuals can't be identified if they don't want to be.

Battery life is another issue, as GPS can be a major drain. Roy Choudhury said battery capabilities will improve, and Wi-Fi stations and cell phone towers also can be used to determine location.

A working prototype has been developed for the Nokia N95, using Carbide C++ programming. The Micro-Blog software has been developed for research purposes, but Roy Choudhury said he envisions applications like this will be commonplace in the next five years.

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