Microsoft Research explores location technologies

Microsoft researchers are working on location-based tools, some of which could turn into commercial applications.

Microsoft researchers are working on a variety of location-based tools, some of which could turn into interesting commercial applications.

In one project, the researchers lent out cheap GPS (Global Positioning System) devices to drivers and asked them to leave the devices on the dashboards of their cars for a couple of weeks, said John Krumm, a researcher at Microsoft Research. He discussed the results of his work at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit in Redmond, Washington, on Monday.

Krumm's group examined the data they collected from the GPS units for a number of different factors, including what time of day people were most often in their cars and where they most commonly were going at what times, such as to commercial or residential areas.

That data was perhaps most relevant to the group's efforts to create a model to predict where and when users would stop and get out of their cars. Krumm imagined a number of reasons why that information might be useful. For example, the provider of a navigation system might be able to predict that because a user is near the airport, the user is likely to go there, and so offer the user a coupon for airport parking.

An intern on Krumm's team is working on determining whether hybrid cars could use such predictive modeling, which could predict the length of a trip as well as hills and the speed of the vehicle during the trip, in order to efficiently allocate the car's resources.

Scott Counts, another researcher, is working on a community application that would let fitness enthusiasts share exercise routes. SlamXR users carry a small device that includes a range of sensors such as heart rate monitor, temperature sensor, altimeter, GPS receiver and Bluetooth radio. Users of the device can collect data along their favorite bike route, for example, and upload that data onto the Web site. The site shows the route on the map and includes data such as speed and altitude along the route. Other users can search for routes based on difficulty, distance, target heart rate, elevation change and activity. Users can also tag the routes for easier searching.

Technologies developed at Microsoft Research could become commercial products from Microsoft, or the company may sell them to external sources. More than 700 researchers work in the group in five labs around the world.

The event in Redmond is an opportunity for Microsoft Research workers to spend time with members of academia, in part to discuss issues in computer science research.

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