BBC BLOGS - Gregory's First Law

Archives for July 2012

And now here is the people forecast

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David Gregory | 18:17 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2012

People predicting programme in action

Can a mobile phone predict where you will be tomorrow? Indeed it can, to an accuracy of about 20 metres and it's all thanks to your friends.

Imagine you are planing to head out after work on Friday to meet your friend Suraj for a quick drink at your favourite cocktail bar. About an hour before you leave work your phone bleeps and you get an electronic coupon for half-price cocktails at another bar. You're tempted to try the other place and it picks up your business.

This is just one application of work from the University of Birmingham that uses information gathered from your mobile phone to predict your location at a future time and date. The research was created as part of a competition organised by Nokia to find cool new ways to interpret a year's worth of location data gathered from volunteers.

The end result is a programme that can predict your likely location in the future down to about 20 metres, which is basically a city block. You can read the paper here. And see a video of the programme in action here.

Just the data from your phone on its own isn't enough, the key part of this research is adding in the location data of your friends' phones. That's what allows the prediction to go from accurate to about a kilometer to accurate to about 20 metres. And you don't need to have many friends to do this, in theory really good data from just one friend is enough. In the real world data from two or three would do.

It turns out as social animals it's the interaction with our friends and family that makes us so predictable.

Nokia were so impressed with this research the team won first prize in the competition. It's not too hard to see how something like this could be very useful for all sorts of businesses and more. On the other hand people may well find all this a bit Big Brothery.

In the end though, the data gathered here is what the mobile phone companies and others already know about us. It's possible the first you'll know about a system like this leaving the computer lab is when you get a text offering you half-price cocktails on a Friday just as you leave the office.

Investing in our virtual reality heritage

David Gregory | 16:10 UK time, Tuesday, 3 July 2012


Lunt Roman Fort near Coventry


Nine years ago I met Mike Gogan when he was helping to create a virtual reality version of Anne Hathaway's cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon. The idea was to allow less mobile visitors to "visit" the interior of this important piece of English history even if it isn't possible for them to climb the narrow stairs to get to the first floor.
Since then his company has continued to model heritage sites and you can find details of some of their projects on the company website.
We caught up at Lunt Fort outside Coventry. A roman archaeological site that Mike has also turned into a 3d model. It really helps to get a sense of what was a very crowded and busy fort. Although I have to say some visiting children were also pretty engaged by some spectacularly gory descriptions of fort-life from an excellent guide.
For Mike, working in a fairly specialised area, the business challenge he faces is to make sure he can impress future clients in the face of global competition. And that's where the University of Warwick and the Warwick Manufacturing Group come in.
They've been working with Mike to push his virtual models even further, using the UK's highest resolution 3d "power wall".
The idea is to use the expertise at Warwick to give smaller companies like Mike's an edge when going out and getting new business. I look forward to returning to see Mike in another ten years and seeing how his plans to model heritage sites all over the world.

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