Urban graffiti

Researchers plan to use the full range of advanced wireless technologies to turn an area of London into a huge interactive network.

The Urban Tapestries project is being backed by the DTI and several major technology companies that hope it will provide an insight into how people will use the type of communications networks likely to be common a decade from now.

A pilot system, which its developers believe will be the first of its kind in the world, is due to go live in the Bloomsbury area by the end of this year. The project will combine systems such as GPS, Bluetooth and 802.11 Wi-Fi to provide residents and visitors with a network of audiovisual information. The researchers also plan to test other location technologies such as the Galileo positioning system and cell triangulation.

People taking part in the pilot will be given handheld computers equipped with all the relevant technologies. Visitors may be able to take part if their mobile phone or PDA is sufficiently advanced. Sites of interest that have been ‘tagged’ with GPS co-ordinates will send an alert to visitors as they reach it, inviting them to download audiovisual material about the location stored on the internet. They will also be able to record an audio clip of the location, for example church bells ringing.

According to the project team, a key feature will be the ability of users to leave their own messages at tagged locations for future visitors. Many researchers into the evolution of mobile technology expect this type of ‘graffiti’ system to form a key component of future wireless networks. These are likely to centre around ‘one-to-many’ communication and interaction between users and specific locations.

The Urban Tapestries team will build its own Wi-Fi wireless network, and link it with those of other institutions in the area such as the British Museum, British Library and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The project is being backed by the DTI, Sony, IT giants HP and Apple, telecoms group Orange and the London School of Economics.

The companies are keen to see how future generations of wireless communications technologies will be used in practice, according to Giles Lane of Proboscis, the think-tank leading the project.

‘Current technologies will just about support what we are proposing,’ said Lane. ‘But the uses of technology we are investigating are about five to seven years away from current consumers.’