The slickest location-based service of all?

Location Based Services are in their infancy with many vendors still struggling to explain, if not justify, the use case. I personally don’t, for example, want coupon alerts every time I pass a store walking down the street.

But the basic idea that your mobile device knows where you are and could therefore direct services and people your way – or, conversely, help you find services and people using the same GPS technology – has potential.

I just came across an application from a company called Xora that may well be the slickest location based service yet. Okay, I’m having a bit of fun here because the “slick” part is that Xora is helping to track the flow of oil from the massive BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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The Emergency Management division of Santa Rosa County in Florida is using Xora to track the flow of oil off its coast that dates back to April when BP’s oil rig first exploded. The company says that data captured by emergency teams using the [Xora ]( helps speed response activities designed to limit how much oil drifts into local waterways and estuaries.

The emergency teams have been going out regularly on patrol boats equipped with new Sprint HTC EVO 4G smartphones and Xora scouting for signs of oil on the ocean’s surface.

“When the water recon team observes tar balls, mats, oil sheen, or a damaged or displaced boom, a picture is taken and is immediately emailed back to the Emergency Operations Center, along with the GPS coordinates. This is real-time reporting at its best!” said Brandon Knuth of Santa Rosa County, Florida’s Computer/GIS division.

The Xora browser-based application, $20 per month, per device, automatically captures the oil’s GPS coordinates, giving the EOC real-time location data and details about the spill. The EOC can then decide what kind of response might need to be taken and whether to forward pictures to other command areas that may need to dispatch equipment to deal with oil.

“The alternative would be a specialized GPS receiver that’s more expensive, a fairly custom solution,” Ananth Rani, co-founder and vice president of products and services at Xora, told me. “Or you could write stuff on a piece of paper and enter it manually. So you’re looking at either more expensive or something that would take a lot more work.”

The images, which can be appended with any notes for added context, are sent to Xora’s servers and are automatically time-stamped with the coordinates from the GPS in the phone.

The Sprint EVO is really fast at transmitting and it has great picture quality,” said Rani. “There are about a dozen users in that Florida location and we plan to be adding more.”

Xora has other clients in such industries as field service, construction, transportation and distribution.

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