Months ago, I was planning to commission Surj to bring his vision of an open source mobile handset to us at Orange. One of the capabilities we thought might yield some interesting applications was a bunch of onboard sensors that could aggregate various metrics for use by service providers. Essentially, transforming each handset into a spime.
- Hyper-accurate, block-by-block weather reports generated by polling temperature, moisture and pressure readings from every mobile device in a given region.
- Public transport services that route buses to locations where multiple passengers need pickups.
- News services that ask users near a newsworthy event to snap cameraphone images.
Last week, TomTom and Vodafone announced a partnership that takes the first steps in using mobile handsets in a distributed sensor network. Initially, TomTom is planning to utilise the locations of Vodafone handsets to feed traffic information to its customer’s GPS units. That’s a great idea, though as The Register points out, ‘Just pray you don’t get caught among motorists on their way to an O2 convention’.
Though the terms of the TomTom-Vodafone deal haven’t bene made public, this kind of ‘Crowdsensing’ could prove to be a lucrative platform business for mobile operators. I’ll watch the TomTom experiment with interest, but it’ll be exciting to hear the opinions of the ETel community on the usefulness and feasibility of such infrastructures as well as their ideas for innovative business models and services.
UPDATE: Wired’s Tagging Phones to Track Traffic covered IntelliOne and AirSage’s mobile traffic sensing services. IntelliOne are using GPS data and, interestingly, selling to media outlets, but profit-sharing with carriers - a potentially lucrative platform business? AirSage, on the other hand, are looking to service government agencies with traffic data.