Scientists create Harry Potter style clock that tracks family members

November 14th, 2007 - 5:41 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Nov 14 (ANI): It seems that Harry Potter mania has hit the scientists too, for they have created a clock that helps track family members.
In the Harry Potter stories, Ron Weasley’s family of pureblood wizards has a magic clock with hands assigned to each family member, indicating their location and now the new prototype device from Microsoft Research Cambridge does a similar thing.
Researchers have christened it as the ‘whereabout clock,’ which enables family members to trace where others are in four broad categories - ‘home,’ ‘work,’ ’school’ and ‘elsewhere.’
However, the creators are expecting that the general nature of the clock’s locations overcomes some of the privacy problems that the researchers believe have impeded other location-based services from becoming more prevalent in the marketplace.
“You can buy a service on your phone to keep track of your kids. There is even talk about putting electronic chips into kids, which is not what we want to do at all,” Discovery quoted Abigail Sellen, senior researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, as saying.
“We wanted to build a device that was not too intrusive into people’s lives, but at the same time recognized the importance of reassurance in a family,” she added.
Sellen said that having that reassurance does not necessarily need exact location information. Knowing that the kids are at school or that mom is on her way home from work is sufficient and can be done with a relatively crude level of location information.
The clock works by using signal information from mobile phones and the network to locate family members. To use it, family members download a software application to their mobile phone.
Once the software is installed, the first time a person arrives at work, home, or school, the button in the application corresponding to those locations is pressed. That tells the software program to lock in on the signal from the nearest mobile phone tower and stores its ID.
Each time the family member’s mobile comes into range of one of the towers labelled ‘work,’ ‘home’ or ’school,’ the software sends a signal through the network back to the Whereabouts Clock at home.
The clock interprets the signal and uses it to move an image of the person’s head into the appropriate area. The image moves into “elsewhere ” when the person’s mobile phone is in an undesignated area.
“This tracking system isn’t about communicating what people don’t know. It’s about telling families about things they already know. It’s about reassurance and families really like that,” Sellen said.
Sellen’s research team tested the device with a handful of families to get specific feedback.
Should a person’s face move from one area to another, say from “home” to “school,” the clock will bong a notification.
Family members away from home can also send a text message to the clock that people at home can read.
Sellen said that it was surprising that none of the test families had issues with privacy.
“They explained to us that knowing the whereabouts of family members is about family life. Even teens didn’t have a problem,” she said. (ANI)

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