LOCA 09 – Live from Shibuya

I’m live blogging from the International Symposium on Location and Context Awareness (LOCA2009) in Shibuya, Tokyo (Japan, just in case). What a lovely venue. After seeting my laptop in an overly heated room (or totally un-air-conditionned). It’s around 80°C right now.

The keynote was by Atsushi Shionozaki, the CTO from Koozyt (which comes from virtual and real merging), a spinoff from the SONY CSL, based on the PlaceEngine. It’s a location engine that uses WiFi signals to locate yourself. There are two types of PlaceEngine: online and offline. They have a DB of 1 mio access points, which takes about 50 mb. Users can input data in their DB. Also, they have a PSP offline version. And also have 50 taxi cabs collecting this data continously. They tag Wireless Access Point with actual strings (patterns) such as B2F (so the 2F means, second floor), and also can parse/tag things like building names and area names such as “South Wing”. It’s a nice step beyond just tagging locations (coordinates), using spaces and names. There are games where you can navigate cities in Japan using PSP games, nippon no asoko de. It’s a fun way to associate physical places with virtual worlds. VAIO type P integrates directly the PlaceEngine on board, with standard map software (GPS based). They also developed a WiFi hotspot finder as they’re using WiFi signals anyway (they could even check whether they are free or not – that is if they can ping some server), which would totally rock. He showed a video of the IPhone software where you have a radar-like gui with dots (which works offline), where dots are actually hotspots (looks cool).

They have a games where you collect pieces of a puzzle, for that you need to go to different NTT hotspots throughout the city. When you finish the puzzle, you get some coupons, rebates, etc (you make people play and visit the places to have them win rebates – nice concept to give more values to coupon, you have to work with).


Location Amplifier for Tokyo Train (image taken from here)

They run around on Yamanote line (the green metro that runs all around tokyo Center) and collected the data with a PSP in a bag and showed a graph of that (impressive!). They propose the concept of Location Amplifier where you augment places with virtual information (totally check out the vidz on the link). They combined different sensors (iphone acceleration basically) to know where you are on the metro line, and they try to show on screen what you see outside, and also you can set an alarm for the destination (that’s soooo cool!). Of course when you come out of the metro (turn it landscape), you have a nice map of the metro station. Just that iPhones are (by far) not as popular in Japan, as they are in Switzerland. PSP and Nintendo DS are far better target platforms.

I totally love the landscape/portrait turn to change mode. For example, they have an amplifier for Yokohama, where the information (tiles) falls on your screen when you walk around and see pictures of things around you (news in the area, etc), on which you can click for more info. When you turn it landscape, you have a map of the neighborhood (this is rad). Finally, he showed a real-time plotting of the location of buses on the line around Tokyo station (that’s totally what I had in mind when he started his talk!!), where buses have wifi equipped linux boxes with GPS receivers.

In the end he showed his logging devices, where he sees what he’s been doing in the last months (commuters patterns). You can identify the different patterns that appear (we see that he often goes to shinjuku/ginza to shop). These maps made me think a lot about Fabian PhD research (who’s supposed to be defending it anytime soon). It’s difficult to build compelling general purpose applications, but Tokyo is a really cool place to experiment and play with such technologies because it’s huge, and there’s a lot of life and activity going on there (ahem, here).

In a word, one of the best keynotes I’ve seen in a long long time.