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>  News Releases >   2003 >   April

Wireless network presents location-dependent opportunities

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 04/14/03 • Contact Sue Knapp


Dartmouth Engineering Professor Ted Cooley (left) and David Kotz, Associate Professor of Computer Science
(photo by Joe Mehling '69)

Imagine a student entering a research lab and immediately receiving information on his or her laptop about current projects or equipment and safety updates. Or think about a professor keeping tabs on a reference book that a group of students keeps misplacing. These personalized services, which change depending on their location, are now being developed and tested on Dartmouth's wireless campus.

Two years after installing one of the first campuswide wireless networks, Dartmouth faculty, staff and students are taking full advantage of it to deliver content tailored to a person's location on campus.

Recently, Dartmouth Engineering Professor Ted Cooley teamed up with Boston's Newbury Networks to install and test their prototype called Locale Points within Cummings Hall, home of Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering. Locale Points recognize a person's location via the wireless network and deliver appropriate information to that person's laptop. This content might come in the form of a welcome message for someone standing in the reception area, or trouble-shooting tips for someone working in a computer lab. Wireless users at Cummings simply connect to a Web site, and, depending on where they are, the Web site will present information suitable to that area.

Employing the help of engineering students Max Crossley, Ian Gregorio and Jonathan (Yijin) He, Cooley overhauled the Newbury product, and they are now working out the kinks in the system. Dartmouth's Baker-Berry Library is the next site slated to test Newbury's Locale Points. This will enable students to receive information about the resources available on different floors.

"It's a win-win situation," says Cooley. "The Dartmouth community gets access to new technology, and Newbury Networks gets a free, controlled test-bed. The beauty of testing the system here is that Thayer School owns the network end to end. So bugs can't hide."

"A group of my students was sharing a reference book and they kept forgetting where they left it. So we stuck a Versus tag on it and they could quickly locate the book any time."

-David Kotz

Cooley has also created Multimedia Techniques for Engineering Instruction (MTEI), which takes advantage of location-specific technology. MTEI is a Web-based, location-dependent, course materials delivery system, and Cooley built it using the wireless network and Newbury Locale Points. Depending on the hour of the day and the room where students are located, course materials can be sent to the students via their Web browsers. The students can then annotate the lecture notes, follow links to relevant Web sites or view video clips and stills. The instructor can interact with students either anonymously (if perhaps the students have questions about class material) or for credit (if the instructor wants to give a multiple-choice pop quiz).

"Two engineering courses have been prototyped so far, but it should be available to all courses taught in Cummings by the end of this year," says Cooley.

Across campus, similar wireless-inspired projects are taking shape. David Kotz, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth, has installed a location-sensing system from Versus Technologies in the Sudikoff Laboratory. The Versus system uses infrared and radio signals to track objects tagged with a Versus badge. The badges can be affixed to portable devices, or even people, and the system reports the current location for every badge in the building.

"A group of my students was sharing a reference book," says Kotz, "and they kept forgetting where they left it. So we stuck a Versus tag on it and they could quickly locate the book any time."

Kotz and his students are pushing the envelope of the Versus product and others like it that track the location of people and resources around a large facility. For instance, a new software package, called the "Solar" system, is currently being developed by some of Kotz's students. Solar helps collect and process context data, like the Versus location information, and graduate student Guanling Chen is the main architect. There are many useful applications, Kotz says, in campus settings, office environments and in emergency-response scenarios.

Take, for example, the Versus location tags. Because they have built-in motion sensors, they can be attached to chairs and then used to identify the number of motionless chairs around an office table. The Solar system communicates with Versus, and if there are two or more chairs in the office that have moved recently, software using the Solar system can conclude that a meeting is taking place there.

"We'd like to build more applications that can use this kind of context information. For example, if the system knows a meeting is taking place in my office, I'd like it to automatically send my telephone a message to roll directly to voice mail, rather than interrupting the meeting four times with a loud ring," says Kotz.

Kotz is interested in these applications that can adjust their behavior according to their current location or context, and the campus' wireless capability has been a helpful tool. He and his students will continue to improve the precision, flexibility and security of their applications using the wireless network.

"The future of location-dependent services is wide open," says Thayer's Cooley. "The imagination of our students will always take us in new and exciting directions, all made possible by the wireless campus."

- Catharine Lamm and Susan Knapp

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