RealTime IT News

Adding Real-Time Info to Local Searches

Los Angeles drivers know the term "sigalert" all too well. It means there's an accident making the already-congested L.A. freeways even slower. It's so bad, there's even a Web site dedicated just to watching SoCal traffic. However, the site isn't in real-time, there is a slight delay.

Likewise, sites like Citysearch can offer a plethora of local information, like local restaurant reviews, but it's usually manually updated and doesn't contain current information, like if there is a long wait for a table.

Researchers at Microsoft think they have a solution. They've developed a service called SenseWeb, which will take data from locally-placed sensors to provide real-time information on everything from local gas prices to traffic flows.

The eventual plan is that when you do a search for a local restaurant, you can also find out traffic conditions between the restaurant and your home. You will also be able to find out online if you can get a table, Suman Nath, a researcher on the project, told internetnews.com.

Google offers local business searches with its Google Earth software, but Microsoft wants to one-up it with real-time data. First it faces the chicken and egg problem of getting people to sign on and agree to put a Web cam or a sensor in their business.

"There is no data now. Why? There are no good apps to use that data. And why are there are no good apps? Because there is no good data," said Nath. "Our hope is we can show to the world that we can do this and show the value, so people will come forward and offer to put in the sensors."

SenseWeb consists of three components: the local sensor to pick up data, Microsoft's database indexing scheme and the online map that lets users search and interact with the data. The online maps come from Microsoft Virtual Earth.

The sensors will run around $50 to $100 a pop, said Nath, and the information provider will have total control over what is sent back to Microsoft servers. The business must also have an Internet connection, which may not be a given in every gas station or restaurant. Traffic information would come from state Departments of Transportation, several of which Microsoft is already speaking with to get the information, he said.

As is often the case with research projects, SenseWeb doesn't have a home yet. Nath said the research team is talking with a few Microsoft product groups, including the most logical home for it, Windows Live Local. Live Local adds maps and local information to MSN Local Search.

For now, SenseWeb is still a research project, said Nath. Microsoft Research hopes to release a prototype independent of the product group in two months for consumers to try.