[funsec] A campus-wide 24/7 WiFi tracking network now in place at MIT

Richard M. Smith rms at computerbytesman.com
Thu Nov 3 17:43:24 CST 2005

Looks like the MIT crowd came thru with a 24/7 people RF tracking network.
WiFi and Bluetooth technologies have always struck me as the RFID
technologies with the most interesting possibilities for people tracking.
These are open and well-standardized technologies that allows anyone to go
into the tracking business.

I wonder if the MIT Campus police will also be participating in this
research experiment.
MIT Wireless Network Tracks Info on Users 

By BROOKE DONALD, Associated Press Writer 21 minutes ago 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - In another time and place, college students wondering
whether the campus cafe has any free seats, or their favorite corner of the
library is occupied, would have to risk hoofing it over there. But for
today's student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that kind of
information is all just a click away. 

MIT's newly upgraded wireless network - extended this month to cover the
entire school - doesn't merely get you online in study halls, stairwells or
any other spot on the 9.4 million square foot campus. It also provides
information on exactly how many people are logged on at any given location
at any given time.

It even reveals a user's identity if the individual has opted to make that
data public.

MIT researchers did this by developing electronic maps that track across
campus, day and night, the devices people use to connect to the network,
whether they're laptops, wireless PDAs or even Wi-Fi equipped cell phones.

The maps were unveiled this week at the MIT Museum, where they are projected
onto large Plexiglas rectangles that hang from the ceiling. They are also
available online to network users, the data time-stamped and saved for up to
12 hours.

Red splotches on one map show the highest concentration of wireless users on
campus. On another map, yellow dots with names written above them identify
individual users, who pop up in different places depending where they're
logged in.

"With these maps, you can see down to the room on campus how many people are
logged on," said Carlo Ratti, director of the school's SENSEable City
Laboratory, which created the maps. "You can even watch someone go from room
to room if they have a handheld device that's connected."

Researchers use log files from the university's Internet service provider to
construct the maps. The files indicate the number of users connected to each
of MIT's more than 2,800 access points. The map that can pinpoint locations
in rooms is 3-D, so researchers can even distinguish connectivity in
multistoried buildings.

"Laptops and Wi-Fi are creating a revolutionary change in the way people
work," Ratti said. The maps aim to "visualize these changes by monitoring
the traffic on the wireless network and showing how people move around

Some of the results so far aren't terribly surprising for students at the
vanguard of tech innovation.

The maps show, for example, that the bulk of wireless users late at night
and very early in the morning are logged on from their dorms. During the
day, the higher concentration of users shifts to classrooms.

But researchers also found that study labs that once bustled with students
are now nearly empty as people, no longer tethered to a phone line or
network cable, move to cafes and nearby lounges, where food and comfy chairs
are more inviting.

Researchers say this data can be used to better understand how wireless
technology is changing campus life, and what that means for planning spaces
and administering services.

The question has become, Ratti said, "If I can work anywhere, where do I
want to work?"

"Many cities, including Philadelphia, are planning to go wireless. Something
like our study will help them understand usage patterns and where best to
invest," said researcher Andres Sevtsuk.

Sevtsuk likened the mapping project to a real-time census.

"Instead of waiting every year or every 10 years for data, you have new
information every 15 minutes or so about the population of the campus," he

While every device connected to the campus network via Wi-Fi is visible on
the constantly refreshed electronic maps, the identity of the users is
confidential unless they volunteer to make it public. 

Those students, faculty and staff who opt in are essentially agreeing to let
others track them. 

"This raises some serious privacy issues," Ratti said. "But where better
than to work these concerns out but on a research campus?" 

Rich Pell, a 21-year-old electrical engineering senior from Spartanburg,
S.C., was less than enthusiastic about the new system's potential for people
monitoring. He predicted not many fellow students would opt into that. 

"I wouldn't want all my friends and professors tracking me all the time. I
like my privacy," he said. "I can't think of anyone who would think that's a
good idea. Everyone wants to be out of contact now and then." 


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