Sunday, January 29, 2006

A ubiquitous Earth?

Speculation is rife that Microsoft might be gearing up to try and compete with Google Earth. Indeed Alan Glennon argues that recent press releases and job announcements hint that it's not if, but when...

Alan also talks about the <LookAt> tag in KML, which allows you to tag not only a specific position, but also the direction and view point at the position. Brian Flood takes this up and discusses automating the process, so that any picture he takes with his camera is automatically geotagged with a position an <LookAt> tag.

In the very near future you should be able to go out with your camera, which has an integrated GPS or is connected to your GPS module over a PAN, and take a bunch of pictures or video without really worrying about having to tag them manually. When you got home you'd hit the "upload" button on the camera. The camera would then make a Bluetooth or WiFi connection to your desktop system, upload all your geotagged photos and kick off Google (or Microsoft?) Earth which would display them as placemarks scattered across the globe. You could click on the placemark and zoom down and actually have the view point of where you took the picture an a thumbnail of the picture itself, all automatically. Neat? Well not really, it's almost achievable today, so not really very interesting...

Of course what would be interesting is if your camera tried to do some data mining for you while our were busy trying to take the picture. If you were living in a world of ubiquitous computing your camera could use it's integrated Bluetooth or WiFi to grab data from the local area. Tourist attractions could have information about their site advertised over some sort of zeroconf networking. Your camera could seek the data out and attach this information as meta-data to your photograph. After visiting some ancient temple all the facts and history about the various sights could be automatically attached and then redisplayed when you clicked on your geotagged photograph inside Google Earth. Although the camera would have to be fairly smart, some sort of agent based based system would be necessary. After all, what about all the advertisements and plain old spam that would get pumped out along with the interesting historical facts around a major landmark or tourist attraction?

Of course that still isn't as interesting as it could be, what if your live position and your photographs are uploaded to the net as you take them via a Bluetooth connection to your 3G mobile phone and could be displayed live in Google Earth. Wouldn't that be interesting?

What do you need to make it happen, well some sort of zeroconf networking for Bluetooth, and a ubiquitous deployment of Bluetooth so that creating PANs is done automatically. We also need manufacturers to stop crippling the Bluetooth software they are deploying. Which is mostly sociological, the technology is already here to allow this sort of thing...

The future of computing is in ubiquity and geolocated data, and I'm beginning to think that it could all come down to personal area networks of small devices connected over Bluetooth rather than convergence devices such as my recent purchase the HTC Universal. Your camera, your phone and your PDA will all share your GPS unit over your PAN. My own experiences seem to indicate that so called convergence devices aren't really the way to go, people want decent ergonomics from their widgets. Phones should of necessity be small, and don't need to have embedded WiFi, GPS units, MP3 players or even a camera. They just need to be able to make a connection to a device that does, and of course offer their own 3G data capabilities to the other devices on your PAN.

Despite what the networks seem to think, video telephony isn't the killer application for 3G, the killer application is data. But only if they make cheap enough, and simple enough, so it gets used automatically by the growing collection of devices your average person carries around with them.

Whatever happens I doubt I'm going to get someone to fund my way to Where 2.0 in San Jose in June this year, which I think could become one of the more important conferences on the calendar, in many way more important than OSCON where people are still talking about the desktop as if it were important. Although that said I'd probably I'd probably kill and maim to get to go to OSCON, and unlike the last three years, nobody is going to fund my way there this year either.


  1. Interesting article. I am new to your blog and I like what I see. Keep up the good work. Thanks.

  2. Definitely some very good points and merging of ideas. All of the technology exists and is rather common now to perform these tasks/wishes, but no one has yet merged them in a good, and useful way.

    As you mentioned, you can have a web-server on your phone, very easily have python scripts grab GPS, Cell AP, or other geolocation info, keep a constant GSM/GPRS connection for pinging a server, and grabbing pertinent information and feeds.