Skyhook Wireless on iPod touch

Last week, after the Macworld festivities, I upgraded my iPod touch to the latest version. Among other things, I wanted to play with the new Maps application. I was amazed.

iPhone PositioningThe latest version of Maps, which is powered by Google Maps, is able to locate your current position. Most mobile phones, lacking GPS capabilities, do this by triangulating radio signals from nearby cell towers. However, iPod touch does not connect to the cellular network, so it determines its location from Wi-Fi signals.

When I pressed the button to locate my position, the map zeroed in on my apartment. This means that the location of my Wi-Fi access point (or that of one of my neighbors), has been recorded in a database.

The technology behind this is provided by a company called Skyhook Wireless. They have driven the streets in vehicles outfitted with special equipment. The equipment picks up beacons from Wi-Fi hotspots, stamps them with the current GPS position, and records the information.

Devices, such as the iPod touch, which receive the very same beacons, can then query Skyhook’s database for an approximate position.

Of course, new Wi-Fi hotspots are always coming online, just as old ones are being taken down. To keep the database up-to-date, the streets have to be periodically re-driven.

I couldn’t help but thinking that this whole process is an ideal candidate for crowdsourcing. As more cars gain both GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities, they can automatically collect the beacons and submit them to the database, increasing coverage and accuracy with near real-time data.


Lonna Hanson
January 23, 2008 at 8:49 AM

I am happy for you that you upgraded to the new iPod. It sounds ultra COOL!

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