Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Loki: Locate me

Loki reminds me of a character in a book I read sometime ago from Gore Vidal: Kalki, with an Indian God/Goddess image in my mind but Wikipedia points North, to a Nordic myth to be more specific whose character in fact tells quite a bit about this package.

Lost?

But before we get there it seems that the big press is finding out about the gps/location phenomena and jumps in. Business Week has "Hello, where am I?" selling Verizon for its navigation phones. Better than tracking services, a special service from your wireless phone cable company.

And Evangelics also take you for a walk, with GPS. Nice.

Loki

SkyHook Wireless made some noise about Loki a while ago. I decided to try it out at last. For now, Windows Firefox only (versions for Mac & Linux in the works it seems). It updates your Firefox browser and installs itself as a new toolbar atop your tabs.

Like Wigle, Loki keeps a database with the known location of Wireless Access Points for a given area (check their coverage map), as a fallback your machine IP address can be used with a much lower accuracy which might take you to the building of your ISP instead.

From the Developers page: "By capturing the MAC address and SSID of nearby WiFi access points, the Skyhook WiFi Positioning System (WPS) can then triangulate the device's location and generate a latitude/longitude - or we can go a step further and reverse geocode that location to return street address, city, county, zip, country, etc".

There is also available a Skype plug-in for E911. The idea is that you can make emergency calls and provide your current location.

Find me

SkyHOOK Wireless installs a driver to XP and from Firefox (or IE) it calls into it to determine your location, probably by talking back to its location server with your IP address and the MAC ID of your Wireless AP. The bottom left of the status bar in the browser has now a lat/lon setting.

The idea is that if your wireless access point can be found at their database, it will be used to pinpoint your current location, otherwise you will need to "tune" it manually by telling Loki where you are (even if you are trying to find that out) by providing an address (# street, city, zip). This will make a HTTPS call back to Loki servers to upload your data. After that it should tell you about what is around with the Channels tab.

It does jump to quite a few different websites including Yahoo pages that are far from being any useful and some other places. But you will need to work a bit to find something if only Zip code was used for positioning. Navizon seems to have a better model by allowing users to upload their own access point location data.

Goodies

The GeoTag tab will give you the corresponding XML tag for the current location:

Geotag 37.059830 -122.003914 Location provided by Skyhook Wireless
The toolbar provides an interface to Google Local by letting you use keywords to search locally. If you want to add a tagline to your email with your current location info, the Email tag will do just that by opening up whatever email client you have with a template for your info and a plug to Loki itself.

The Options tab will let you edit the list of Channels including the way the URL is built and passed to the corresponding website. From here you can also uninstall Loki from your browser. But beware that this won't remove the service that gets installed with it. You will need to uninstall and remove it manually [check under Services and for C:\Program Files\Skyhook Wireless\your_user_name\Wi-Fi Driver\WPSScannerSvc.exe"].

And you will also need to uninstall their Wi-Fi driver from Add/Remove Programs. Check all the data that is compiled at
C:\Documents and Settings\yourUserName\Local Settings\Application Data\Skyhook Wireless\log.

Conclusion

Based on the comment from Jed tuning adds your access point to Loki's database and Yahoo isn't the only place you can get stuff from. To be honest I got a bit discouraged to try more channels after the initial results. And I don't like the fact that you still have a service and driver running even after you have it apparently uninstalled from a machine, plus all the data that is being monitored and stored. A bit too much.

But in any case, giving it a bit more use I looked up for gas prices and it did point to stations close by. Weather, which uses the Zip code worked too. But ShopLocal put me 10 miles from Oakland when I was in fact about 80 miles away.

Guess I had to take into account that this is still a beta product, that the times are asking for personal tracking so it is just inevitable and everyone should comply. Oh God...

Seriously a non-GPS based location technique on the client side would inherently produces a lower precision result. Loki interface should remember you that these are weird times. For their open (or semi-open) nature Wigle and Navizon should in the long run give you better data, keep your privacy and allow for other possibilities.

Loki is also working on a buddy finder for mobile phone users.

A new UI?

And for some mobile interface, check MobileMagazine for an UI that might have some future potential. What you think?

1 comment:

Jed Rice said...

Thanks for the comments on Loki - its always great for us to get some detailed and well-thought out feedback.

Loki is based on Skyhook's WiFi positioning system which does use WiFi access points as underlying infrastructure. We are quickly approaching a database that has the known location of 10 million access points on our way to a coverage area that will map to 75% of the US population by this fall. In other words, it won't work in just the big cities but lots and lots of smaller ones as well. And if you are outside our coverage area, you can 'tune' your location - which also acts to update our database with the access points you have in range.

As for the lock-in with Yahoo, out of the approximately 40 channels we have, only 3 of them use Yahoo content - we include everything from A9 to Zagats. You can also configure Loki under the options tab to use any of the dozen or so mapping or search engines you'd prefer.

We're pretty excited about Loki - lots of press and a very significant number of users in only the 4+ weeks we've been live. And lots more to come in the next few weeks!

Jed