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Locating mobile devices

MIT researchers are developing a theoretical framework that could eventually be used to help pinpoint the location of mobile devicesblue dotsindoors, where GPS reception can be unreliable and inaccurate.

Christine Daniloff

In the last 10 years, the possibility of using wireless connections to deduce mobile devices’ locations has been a hot research topic in industry and academia. GPS systems frequently fail in large buildings, and even when they don’t, they’re not very precise. Firefighters tracking each other in a smoke-filled building, soldiers trying to determine each other’s position in urban environments, medical staff trying to locate equipment or each other in a busy hospital, and warehouse workers trying to find merchandise in an aisle of pallets stacked 20 feet high all need higher-resolution location information than GPS can provide.

Heavy hitters like Google, Intel ,and Nokia have all experimented with wireless localization, but MIT’s Wireless Communications and Network Sciences Group in the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) is taking a more fundamental approach to the problem. The lab is developing a theoretical framework that explains just how accurate wireless location information can be, depending on network characteristics like interference and available bandwidth. But the theoretical results in turn point the way toward better algorithms.

Moe Win, a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, heads the group, which is based in LIDS. Win says that the group’s work was inspired by the work of Claude Shannon, who founded the field of information theory. In 1948, Shannon showed how to calculate the maximum rate at which data could be sent, error-free, over a communications channel, even in the presence of electrical or electromagnetic disruptions known as "noise." Win's group is trying to do something similar with location information.

From MIT News Office
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