GPS enabled cell phones

More and more cell phones are shipped with built-in GPS receivers. The position coordinates used by applications running on your cell phone allow for sharing your location with a community. Various projects have gathered this data to monitor health, traffic, and social interactions. The infrastructure for standardizing the exchange of location for applications is just beginning to form. Some of these services are even becoming available for phones which do not have GPS to accurately capture position. Instead, triangulation based on cell phone towers in range is used. Since the phone is tied to a communications network, sending information off to be aggregated with others, makes for many potential applications. Just a few are listed here.

Traffic monitoring

As we drive around town with our cell phones this provides information about traffic flow. How fast we are moving? Is our movement in starts and stops? Are lots of people avoiding a certain lane in a certain area? How closely spaced are the cars in the area? Is the data coming from a car or pedestrian? These are some of the questions that could be answered by our phones. This data would allow our car navigation systems to alert us of upcoming problems, and provide alternate directions to avoid slow areas.

Speed monitoring

Already there has been a case where someone was tracking their own driving with their personal GPS, and that speed contradicted the speed captured by the ticketing officer. Thus, the driver was able to avoid the ticket. However, one can easily see this helping as much as it hurts. Issues have come up from rental car companies charging customers for instances of excessive speed as determined by the car’s GPS unit. With a cell phone speed monitoring would not need to be built into the car. Also, the data would not necessarily be gathered by the driver’s phone, instead any of the passengers could be the (unintentional) source as well.

Location sharing with privacy protection

While wandering about, determining if any friends are nearby, and allowing them to find you requires an exchange of information. Yahoo is developing Fire Eagle to aid in the capture and sharing of current location. By running an application on your phone, it uploads the location, and based on your sharing policies determines which applications and users are able to access the data. The goal is to allow for web based applications to respond better based on your current location, while preventing your current location from being available to everyone. Since the remote application should only care about the location, and not the identify of the person at that location, this type of location broker helps to separate you from your location. The idea of sharing location, but trying to maintain anonymity can be challenging.

Location specific applications

There are a variety of applications which can benefit from you and others knowing your location. For you obvious ones are location related searching, and navigating from your current location to a new destination. For others, advertisers knowing your location and interests can provide more focused ads as you walk past. Also, if you are exposing a set of items you are looking to purchase, the stores nearby could respond with availability and pricing. Location specific chats could be created containing only people in the nearby area. A quick query to those nearby far a recommendation of a good restaurant would receive responses from people nearby.

Retrieving Cell Phone

One obvious advantage of having a built in means of telling you where your cell phone is when it is lost or stolen. Not only do you want to be able to find where you are when the phone is in your hand, but also when it is out moving about on its own. This functionality exists today on special kids phones. On the kids phones, parents can monitor via the web where their kids are. This capability is something a teenager would definitely not desire.

Context Aware Ringing

There are many locations that do not want your cell phone to ring. Movies, plays, and other public entertainment venues are one obvious location. In these venues the cell phone should automatically switch from ringing to vibrate. On planes, the phone should automatically disable the transceiver. Unfortunately in cases where the GPS unit is forced to turn off, some other external stimulus is required to turn it back on once you leave the plane.

Emergency Response

One of the reasons that government’s are pushing for GPS to be standard on cell phones is to improve the emergency response to those calling for help. When your phone number does not accurately identify where you are, it can be challenging to assist.

Not just where you are, but where you’ve been

In addition to where you are, where you have been is often useful. Sites which keep track of your location at various times would be able to provide track data which could be displayed on maps. This would allow for easy summarizing where you went and what you did on a vacation. Also it makes it easier to associate those vacation photos with where they were taken. However, it would also allow others to verify whether or not you were actually where you said you were.


The ease with which current location can be determined and sent to others is increasing. With that will come many applications which take advantage of this information. However, there is a need to protect this information from others It will be interesting to see what new conveniences and inconveniences sharing of location will provide us.

How do you use your GPS enabled cell phone?

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One Comment on “GPS enabled cell phones”

  1. Juan Says:

    Hi everyone.

    A few days ago, I was surfing the web and I found out a project that works over most mobile phones which lets you know where your friends are in real time and update your status in twitter. It´s called Dimdix.

    On their website they say you don´t need a GPS system to detect your location. Does anyone know how this works?

    I´m using a Motorola L7 and amazingly it detected my location.

    I cannot stop thinking of all the things I could do with it.

    If anyone wants to take a look you can go