Make Your Own Location Application

By Eric Griffith

June 12, 2006

Skyhook's Developer Network builds on its location service by letting third-party software creators build in Wi-Fi-based positioning.

Skyhook Wireless announced its Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) last summer, and has kept pace by updating it (it covers 100 large metro areas in the United States) and creating software to make it useful (Loki, an add-on that makes Web browsers location-aware).

Tomorrow at O'Reilly's where 2.0 conference, the company will make public the Skyhook Developer's Network, the means by which it will provide APIs and documentation to third-party software developers that want to insert WPS functions into their own products.

"We found that a whole host of third-party developers want features like Loki's, but in their own IM clients, photo applications, games, whatever," says Ted Morgan, Skyhook CEO and founder. "Now they can start targeting 100 million devices with Wi-Fi in them today."

The software developer's kit will target applications written in the C programming language to run on Windows operating systems, including Windows Mobile handhelds. Morgan says they're working to expand it to Linux and Mac platforms in the future.

"It's like two API (application programming interface) calls to get the location, and the data comes spitting back," says Morgan. "Our client does what it has to do to find the signal, and hands it back to the application." He says that, as with the global position system (GPS), WPS speaks the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) standard that defines the protocol for marine instrumentation and how it relays data to a PC or other electronic device. "If you build an application that talks to GPS, it talks to our product, too," he says.

Skyhook's Developers Dashboard will include the APIs and code, documentation, release notes, and links to community forums and support. It will include .dll and .cab files need for programmers to get started, and Web service protocols like .NET and SOAP. Skyhook claims that most developers can integrate the WPS in a day.

While it's free to anyone who wants it, the kit does include some caveats that need to be signed to let Skyhook protect its IP, and, in the case of someone coming up with some killer app using WPS, to eventually mean giving Skyhook some cash. "If you're wildly successful, we want to participate," says Morgan. He compares it to Google, which offers free APIs for things that stay "free until you're successful."

In the meantime, developers are given carte blanche to experiment. To add experiment incentive, the company has a developer's contest called Wi-Fi TrashTalk. Whoever comes up with the "coolest" application using WPS (based on "innovation, consumer appeal, ease of use and breadth of functionality"), will win a Segway human transporter to be given out in September.

Skyhook is not alone in providing location services using Wi-Fi. Navizon is another that uses a combination of Wi-Fi and cellular towers to find a position. Microsoft Research also has a program called Radar for in-building location awareness using Wi-Fi, and rumor last year had them moving it to the outdoors.

Originally published on .

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