By Eric Griffith
March 23, 2006
Skyhook’s Wi-Fi-based GPS powers this browser toolbar that makes Internet searches all about where you are.
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Skyhook Wireless created the Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) to use overlapping signals from existing access points just like a GPS uses satellites to figure out your position. The company has mapped the 100 biggest metropolitan areas in the United States, and is working on more.
Now, that’s all well and good, but outside of telling you where you already are (which, if you’re sitting with a laptop, you should already know), what good is it?
Skyhook hopes to answer that question with a browser toolbar it has developed called Loki. The software, targeted at tech-savvy consumers, won’t get a formal announcement until the CTIA Wireless 2006 show in April, but the beta is already available. Install it on a laptop with a working Wi-Fi card and, according to Skyhook founder and CEO Ted Morgan, it will tailor your Internet searches and posts to your current location.
“When you look online for weather, movies, dating and other items, they have content that’s location-specific,” says Morgan. “You usually have to enter that, but with Loki, it figures out where you are [using the WPS] and puts in that information.” Thus a search of a site like Fandango, for instance, will show you the movie times and ticket prices at theaters close to your location. A search on Yahoo! Traffic shows the flow of cars on your closest highway.
The software is preconfigured with channels for location-based sites supporting everything from maps to shopping to news to dining, even gas prices, webcams and local blogs. Advanced users can configure their own channels. When you’re on a Web page with a form asking for your location, clicking the GeoTag button pastes in the locale based on the WPS info. The software structures queries to Internet engines as needed when it sees fields such as ‘address’ and ‘zip code.’
If you’re not in one of the metro areas that Skyhook has in the database, Loki can still work to an extent by factoring in your IP address. Morgan says there are beta testers of the software using it even outside of the country, in Romania and the Ukraine. (Skyhook has a previously-announced deal with IP geolocation provider and fraud detector MaxMind.) If the location is still way off, you can put in your address by hand to “tune” your location.
“It not only lets you search by location, but shares your location with others,” says Morgan. “You can send an e-mail of your current location, post it on a Frappr map — there’s tens of thousands of people on Frappr who change their locations by hand.” Same goes for any kind of location-oriented tagging on blogs or sites like Flickr. With Loki, the browser software automatically records the change.
Skyhook has already partnered with Web sites like Socialight and uLocate’s WHERE.com, services that originally were developed with mobile phone users in mind, but can now be used by laptop users at hotspots. They have open APIs, and invite other vendors to integrate their applications with Loki.
The Loki software only runs on Windows XP for now, but is available for both the Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers.
The software’s announcement at CTIA coincides with its being a finalist in the show’s NAVTEQ Global LBS Challenge.