City information directly on your mobile
This month, a start-up company from ESA’s Business Incubation Centre launched a new mobile phone service which provides, with the help of satellite and telecommunication technology, location-based information on shopping, entertainment, tourism, and public transportation.
Dutch start-up company Mobzili combines the precise location of a person with information on events, activities, public services and shopping opportunities in the surrounding area into a service called ‘AllAroundMe’, which gives subscribers, directly on their mobile phones, information on their favourite shop, a good restaurant in the vicinity, the next bus scheduled, and much more.
“The service is equally appealing for visitors and locals, who receive ideas on the 'latest and greatest' in their area. Meanwhile, it empowers the local merchants to establish direct communication with potential consumers in a non-intrusive manner,” explains Reza Ladchartabi, co-founder of Mobzili, and one of the inventors of AllAroundMe.
To prevent information overload, users can specify their individual needs and interests in personalised profiles which determine the information that will be displayed.
Boost from ESA space tech support
AllAroundMe relies on the built-in navigation system of today’s mobile phones, which provides the exact location of its user.
“We have developed a system which improves the localisation of the user by combining data from navigation satellites with data from the mobile phone 3G-network,” explains Wojtek Chowanski, system developer and co-founder of Mobzili.
“By doing this, we are able to establish the location of a person both outside a building, where GPS signals are received, and inside a building, where the last known GPS location is combined with 3G data and information about the environment, the movement of the user, and a propagation model to determine the best estimation of the user's location. In the future, we plan to use navigation data provided by Galileo, which will be more accurate than GPS, to know with more precision where a user is located at any given time.”
With more than 500.000 location-based objects in the Netherlands, on shops, bus stations and so on, the Mobzili team had to develop a new very fast processing algorithm to both find location and what is relevant for each user and show it on the mobile within seconds.
Reared as a start-up in ESA’s Business Incubation Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherland, Mobzili benefited from ESA’s unique technical expertise in telecommunications engineering. Chowanski notes, “ESA gave the technology development a major push. Their experts contributed with feasibility analysis and technical advice.”
Tests and challenges
The development of any product for mobile phones is a major challenge, considering the vast number of different types of mobile phones on the market, and the difficulties of fitting quality information on phones with small screens. “As a service provider, you are always challenged to create the best user-friendly presentation, while maintaining uniformity in a very fragmented mobile phone market,” says Ladchartabi.
“We therefore started to test our system with a number of users in the town of Leiden. Their experience and comments helped us improve our product before its actual launch.”
Ladchartabi emphasises that the process of improving their service to respond better to subscribers’ needs and preferences does not stop with the test period in Leiden. “We would like all our users to join our panel and tell us what they think of our product by tweeting @AllAround_Me on twitter, or emailing us at email@example.com.”
Mobzili’s AllAroundMe service is available in the Netherlands as of 8 June, through a cooperation with Uitburo Nederland, Dinnersite, Uitinbrabant, and Belbios. The next stage for Mobzili is already in sight. “We plan to soon make our service available all across Europe,” Ladchartabi adds.
Still in Beta phase, AllAroundMe can be downloaded free of charge at www.allaroundme.eu, and runs on mobiles with internet functionality. AllAroundMe freeware for iPhone and Google are currently being developed.
ESA’s Business Incubation is one of the major initiatives of the Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO). As part of its endeavour to encourage the transfer and commercialisation of space technologies, three Business Incubation Centres have been set up at ESTEC in the Netherlands, ESOC in Germany and ESRIN in Italy. The centres support selected entrepreneurs with comprehensive commercial and technical assistance to help them start up businesses that use space technology in non-space industrial, scientific and commercial fields.
ESA's Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)
The main mission of the TTPO is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to demonstrate the benefit of the European space programme to European citizens. The office is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding. For more information, please contact:
ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office
European Space Agency ESA
Keplerlaan 1, 2200 AG, Noordwijk ZH
Phone: +31 (0) 71 565 6208
Email: ttp @ esa.int