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December 7, 2004

HP researchers broaden access to location-based services

Mobile Bristol toolkit will help user groups develop creative new services


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HP today announced the release of freely downloadable software tools developed by the Mobile Bristol project that will allow university researchers, students, community organizations, schools, clubs and other groups around the world to create experimental location-based, context aware services and experiences.

Mobile Bristol, a joint activity by HP Laboratories, Bristol University and the Appliance Studio, is creating a wireless ‘digital canvas’ over the city, on to which rich, situated, digital experiences can be painted and new commercial ventures explored. The aim is that as people walk through Bristol they will be able to access a wide range of digital media experiences such as historical and tourist soundscapes, games, interactive media and art, bringing the city alive.

HP is committed to offering the best customer experiences through affordable high-technology offerings. Mobile Bristol meets this aim by exploring new forms of situated consumer experiences delivered by emerging, context-sensitive, mobile technology.

In pursuit of this goal, HP Labs researchers and their partners from Bristol University developed a set of software tools that can place media files, such as sounds and images, in a location to blend in and augment a physical area. Associated software, loaded on to HP iPAQ handheld computers equipped with GPS satellite positioning, allows the user to access automatically the different media files as they move from place to place.

Now, versions of this software – an authoring tool to place the files and iPAQ-based client software to access them – are being made available for groups and individuals to download and use. The technology has already been used in a number of successful Mobile Bristol trials, such as:

Queen Square

The HP researchers commissioned local playwrights to create an interactive audio play based on a notorious riot in Queen Square, Bristol, in 1831. Equipped with GPS-enabled iPAQs, users moved around the square hearing different parts of the audio play depending on where they were and where they had already been. There were more than 100 component audio files for users to listen to covering the square and recreating the events of the riot. The result, location-based audio theatre.

Harbour trail

Start-up company Node used the Mobile Bristol infrastructure and software to create a location-based, water-borne tourist guide in conjunction with the Bristol Ferry Boat company. As the ferries sail around Bristol’s historic harbour, tourist users receive information through HP iPAQs about events and people in history relevant to the area they are in.

Bristol Festival of Nature

The BBC used the Mobile Bristol toolkit during October 2004 to present sound extracts around the harbourside and the old centre of Bristol, which people experienced with HP iPAQs as they walked the route. The sound extracts were located at particular points on the route and related to the wildlife, historic buildings and the geology of that part of Bristol.

Richard Hull, of the Mobile Bristol group in HP Labs, led the HP-Bristol University team that developed the toolkit. He said: “We think of our work as creating a new form of locative media, enabling a new world of media-oriented, location-based services and applications.

“We have been fascinated to discover what people have already created with the Mobile Bristol toolkit and we look forward to seeing what they will develop in the future.”

The toolkit consists of two components: a desktop editor that makes it easy for non-programmers to associate media files with particular locations, based on map references, and client software that enables iPAQs to locate and play those files. The toolkit will work anywhere that GPS is available.

The current release provides functionality focused on the location-triggered media. Further releases, introducing additional triggers such as environmental data and biosensors, can be expected in the future. The released software can be freely downloaded for non-commercial purposes by following the appropriate link from www.mobilebristol.com. Potential commercial users should contact enquiries@mobilebristol.com

“The Mobile Bristol team looks forward to hearing what people have been able to make with the downloaded tools, and to reflect those new uses and new applications in our ongoing research,” said Hull.

Related links

» Mobile Bristol
» HP Labs Bristol

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