MITRE's GPS-based Push2Loc Puts Information in Its PlaceJuly 2011
Topics: Command and Control, Geographic Information Systems, Collaborative Computing, Signal Processing
An armored car squad in hostile territory is on patrol. As the soldiers reach a normally uncontested sector, their Push2Loc onboard communication display flashes a warning that intelligence has intercepted enemy communications mentioning the sector. Alerted to the possibility of engagement, the squad proceeds with extra caution.
Push2Loc (a play on "push to a location") uses "geo-fences"—virtual perimeters marked by GPS coordinates—to allow information generators to tag data to a certain location. When a user equipped with a GPS-enabled communication device nears that location, he receives an alert that information pertaining to that location is available.
"Push2Loc is for environments that change quickly and where people need alerts in real time," says its designer, Josh Thomas, a MITRE senior software systems engineer. Currently in such environments, there is a disconnect between those "pushing" data and those "pulling" it. Information generators and information consumers constantly struggle to connect with each other in such a way that the correct information gets to the correct recipient at the correct time. "It would be nice to have something that automatically feeds you the data you need when and where you need it," says Thomas.
Pushing and Pulling
Information generators must be kept informed about who needs their information and when they will need it. In the military, an agency disseminating intelligence information (often from a distant base or command center) needs to know not only which squad will be patrolling a sector on alert, but also the opportune time to notify the squad. Delivering the information to a squad during its morning briefing might do more harm than good. After all, if the squad isn't scheduled to reach the sector until late in the day, the information might be out of date.
While the information generator is concerned with focused and timely delivery, the information consumer is concerned with situation awareness. "End users have to rely on someone who is not at the scene to select which information is most relevant to the user's situation," says Thomas. "If the environment or situation changes, there's a possibility a user won't be alerted to information now relevant to his needs and safety."
Push2Loc removes the need for communication between information generator and consumer and therefore reduces the possibility for miscommunication. Instead of being "pushed" towards a person, information goes directly to a location. No longer needing to worry about getting their data to the right recipients, information generators can concentrate on producing the best information and let Push2Loc deliver it. And users will have no need to "pull" information at all—Push2Loc will automatically alert them to the information relevant to their location.
Out of the Clouds
Thomas is currently developing a working prototype of Push2Loc, drawing from existing commercial social media Web and mobile platform technologies. The biggest technical challenge isn't the geo-fencing, as GPS-enabled technology is almost ubiquitous in modern devices, but in ensuring that the information flows between generator and consumer as efficiently as possible. The current model of Push2Loc employs a simple, centralized cloud server on the Web to store information. The mobile Push2Loc devices then connect to that server to access the information.
In order to reduce data lag, Thomas would like to eliminate the middleman in the interaction. He is exploring how to create an ad-hoc network between generators and consumers to allow for better real-time/right-time automatic information dissemination sharing.
Thomas is excited about the flexibility Push2Loc could offer MITRE's sponsors. "Push2Loc would be useful to anyone on the move who needs information. Doctors in hospitals could use it to receive patient updates as they make their rounds. Police officers on patrol could use it for alerts about recent disturbances. Ambulance drivers could receive real-time traffic updates and route suggestions.
"Once you start dynamically pushing information, you can reroute whole situations on the fly while at the same time keeping everyone informed—without paralyzing them with information overload."
—by Christopher Lockheardt