Location-Based Services – Applications

copyrights:Aleksander Buczkowski 2011-2012

It is almost impossible to catalogue all of applications of Location Based Services. In order to provide more useful, attractive and engaging social networks, apps and services location-components have been added to new innovative projects. I have catalogued LBS applications in the following way:

  • Marketing
  • Emergency
  • Information Services
  • Navigation
  • Location Based Social Media
  • Mobile Location-Based Gaming
  • Sports
  • Billing
  • Geotagging
  • Tracking
  • Augmented Reality

Marketing

Location-Based Marketing is on the coolest things and are the driver for new innovations. That way the is a whole subpage about it.

Emergency

One of the fundamental application of LBS is utilizing the ability to locate an individual calling to emergency response agency (911 in US, 112 in EU) who is either unaware of his/her exact location or is not able to reveal it because of an emergency situation. Based on this spatial information emergency response agency (e.g. ambulance, police, firefighters) can provide help in a quick and efficient way.

In 1996, the US Congress passed the law issued by Federal Communication Commission requiring all US mobile operators to locate emergency caller dialing number 911. In the first phase of the project required all 911 calls to be routed to the nearest public safety answering point (PSAP) and provide the PSAP with the telephone number of the originator of a wireless call and the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call. In the second phase (2001) the wireless carriers where obliged to increase the accuracy of the geographic position of the caller up to 50-300m.

European Union Commission has passed a similar regulation –“ Commission Recommendation of 25 July 2003 on the processing of caller location information in electronic communication networks for the purpose of location-enhanced emergency call services” based on Directive 2002/22/EC . This article asks EU states to develop national regulations for mobile operators enforcing the automatic positioning of emergency calls: “Member states shall ensure that undertakings which operator public telephone networks make a caller location information available to authorities handling emergencies, to the extent technically feasible, for all calls to the single European emergency call number 112. The difference between approaches in US and Europe is that EU in fact did not enforce mobile operators to increase the accuracy of caller’s location. Especially in the USA initiative brought vast development of LBS technologies and infrastructure among mobile operators that allowed them to offer other services.

Data from Location Based Services can be used as well for disaster management. One of great examples is the Ushahidi platform – an open source project which allows users to crowd source crisis information that was sent via location-enabled mobile devices, but as well published in the Internet, local media etc. and visualize it on the map to get the ‘real picture’ of the problem and manage rescue services in the most efficient way. The platform was found to be a great help during Haiti earthquake in 2010.

Another emergency application of LBS was released in the city of Portland in 2010. The city created open source platform where citizens are able to report problems with the city infrastructure via iPhone and Android devices using dedicated application – PDX Reporter.   It enables users to select the type of issue to report, take a photo, geotag it with GPS or interactive map, add comments, and send their report to the responsible bureau. Afterwards users can view issues they have submitted and check the status of the issue.

Information Services 

Location-based information services refer mostly to the digital distribution of information based on device location, time specificity and user behavior. This is one of the most widespread and earliest implemented types of LBS utilizing both pull and/or push services.

Starting from 2001 the communication between mobile terminal and server was operated with SMS, than MMS. The user could query the server with simple questions concerning for example the address of the closest cinema or automated teller machines. The services were usually provided by wireless network operators. Nowadays the information is commonly delivered by external providers with wireless internet via smartphone apps (e.g. Yelp, Yellow Pages, Gas Buddy). The scope of data and information offered by service provider is very comprehensive and it include local street map, wide variety of points of interests  (restaurants, gas stations, cafes, stores, pharmacies, hospitals, services, touristic attractions etc. ), weather forecast, real-time traffic information etc.

In the era of information society and social web, users are not only producing content of World Wide Web but also geographically localize it. LBSs can give users access to value-adding information published by other users of the Web in the geographical proximity, for example recommendations of restaurants or particular items from a menu of a restaurant, spontaneous public event etc. Location Based Social Networks (e.g. Foursqure, Facebook Places) or Location Referring Services (e.g. Google Place, Yelp, Yahoo Local) smartphone applications often offer this kind of functionality. There are as well several applications that are using mobile location based augmented reality technologies to provide information services (e.g. Enkin).

Navigation

Navigation services allow locating the exact geographical position of a mobile device using one of available positioning systems and get direction and/or navigate user to required location including vehicles, crafts, and pedestrians. This service is often linked with ‘Information Services’ described above (e.g. get direction to point of interest). However, according to LBS definition only those navigation products that are receiving the information from wireless networks can be considered a part of Location Based Services. The LBS approach to navigation gives particular advantage over mobile navigation software using data stored on the memory of a mobile device, because it potentially gives user the access to the real-time data. The limitation of large volumes of data needed to be transferred over wireless network is decreasing as many network operators offers unlimited or reasonably priced data transfer.

One of examples of LBS navigation is mobile application Google Maps that can be accessed via multiple mobile platforms (Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm, Symbian S60, Windows Mobile). According to the study by market research company Nielsen made in July 2011, 74,6% of adult smartphone users operating on the Android OS in U.S. have used Google Maps during last 30 days (Nielsen Blog, 2011). From the results presented in the other report made by The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project one can learn that 55% of adult smartphone users in United States uses their devices to “get location-based directions and recommendations”. As a comment it needs to be stated that navigation refers not only to vehicles or crafts but in fact majority of smartphones users utilize this service for pedestrian way finding. Some LBS providers are using mixed model for example providing basic navigation road data saved on the memory of the device and providing real-time traffic information via mobile network e.g. TomTom HD Traffic.

Location Based Social Media

Social media have been widespread on the Internet and have become craved research topic. Social networks like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter changed the way how people communicate and maintain relations among friends, colleagues, peers or even a family. The development and ubiquity of location-aware mobile devices gave social media possibility to integrate location with content created users. There are different models that the networks are based on. What most of the networks have in common is ‘checking-in’ – the act of sharing one’s location (verified by positioning system) with social network, public, or individuals and have access to location broadcasted by their friends. Many LBSNs use elements of gamification to engage audiences and create incentives for users. Other ways to attract users are often coupons or discounts used in pull or push way.

Mobile Location-Based Gaming

Mobile Location Based Gaming (MLBG) is a growing trend among LBS. MLBG is linking elements of traditional open-air field games (e.g. Hide-and-seek, Paper Chase) with new technologies available on mobile devices including positioning technologies, wireless fast speed internet, image recognition and augmented reality among others. MLBG can be defined as a location-based game that can run on a mobile device and by using a communication channel the game exchange information with a game server or other players.

In most of MLBG there are several scenarios and themes used:

There are single-player games and multi-player games, however it is possible to play multi-player games alone, if players are simulated. Many games are available only for certain platforms e.g. City Secrets are available only for iPhone users but they are gettig more and more popular. MyTown, for example, has much over 5 million active users. Most users of this Monopoly-style game spend on average more than an hour on the app a day. Rather than just check in at a place, a player can “buy” the venue and collect rent from other players who check into the same place. Booyah is trying to get players more involved with new features like in-game purchasing, where players can buy power-ups, and all this seems to be working.

The other popular type of Location-Based Gaming are scavenger hunts. It is the best way of tying a game in with a real-world experience is what location-based games are all about for Greg Gerber, founder of iSpy. His iPhone game is based on the children’s game of “I spy”. A player takes a picture of a real world object, say, a statue in a city and uploads it to the game. Then, other players take on the task of finding that statue (they get an approximate location of the geotagged photo—a circle is projected onto a map, and it contains the object within a radius of a few city blocks). When they do find it, they take a picture of it with the cell phone’s camera and upload it, thus “solving” the game.

Sports

The potential of LBS and modern mobile devices can be used as well to monitor sports activities. Location-based application including Nokia Sports Tracker, Nike +, Run Keeper and Endomondo has millions of users. Functionality of those applications allows user to automatically collect his/her workout data, such as location, distance, speed, duration, or burned calories and store them on the server. Endomondo allows to visualized real-time route of outdoor sport activity via smartphone using Google Maps and sharing that data with a social networks. Another application called Zombie Run is integrating jogging with a territory defence location based game.

Billing

Location based billing refers to ability to dynamically charge users of a particular service depending on their location when using or accessing the service. Although the concept could be applied to many businesses, two major industries use this option.

The primary industry that is utilizing this application of LBS is cellular network.  Location-based billing allows a mobile operator to charge different rates to mobile subscribers based on their physical location. It gives a mobile operators possibility to directly compete with wire line providers by charging clients at home or at work with rates comparable to wire line and with standard rate when they leave. This possibility is utilized only by a small percent of mobile operators.

Location-based billing is as well used in some countries for road tolling system. Systems in some countries allow to vehicles to be equipped with a special tolling device (e.g. On-Board Units – OBU) which exchanges data over the air with fixed control stations located along the roads or capture the data from the satellite positioning system. Problem with this kind of systems is no standards therefore, systems of different countries are incompatible with each other.

Geotagging

Geotagging is defined as adding geospatial metadata to digital media such as photographs, videos, messages, blogs, web pages and GeoRSS. Significant amount of the social media content is created by users through location-aware mobiles devices.

Geotagging allows browsing the content of the Web with geographic filtering. It is as well possible to visualize some of the content.  Especially photo-sharing sites enabling geotagging are popular among users of LBS. There is an ongoing research about using geotagged images to determine location of touristic service points.

Tracking

Real-time tracking is one of the most useful applications of LBS. It can be used for people tracking: children, patients with dementia, prisoners with arrest ankle bracelets, employers to track their workers. LBS tracking solutions are used as well for animal tracking.

Vehicle tracking is another broad application of LBS. This can concern single vehicle tracking (e.g. car security systems) but as well control and coordination of entire fleets of vehicles. UPS one of the World’s biggest shipping companies uses own location-based systems for management and logistics thousands of tracks. With fleet over 60 000 vehicles, even one saved mile by every track per day means millions of dollars savings.

Using the same platform presented in the emergency applications of LBS, the city of Portland offers to citizens’ real-time buses tracking. With iPhone or Android devices application, ‘PDX Bus’ users can view on a smartphone exact location of the bus to be sure about the schedule.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality is a growing trend in Location-Based Services. It combines real and virtual world by combining camera view with virtual overlaid augmented graphic or information. Due to its character it is interactive and registered in 3D. The location dimension is crucial in order to deliver relevant information to user.