Reality Search Engines

Posted by Ravi Pappu on Tue, Sep 16, 2008 @ 12:58 PM

Tags: RFID, Reality Search Engines, Ford Tool Link

The business of finding digital data is booming. Most of us type search terms into a 2-inch wide box several tens or hundreds of times a day to look for contacts, addresses, directions, documents, scholarly articles, and patents. This type of search has a two distinguishing characteristics. First, the data being searched has typically been digitized at some time in the past. Second, the data usually refers to digital objects or physical objects which are spatially distant from us - e.g., books in a Glenrothes, Scotland fulfillment center, a picture of the Great Wall of China, or the topology of the surface of Mars. What these search boxes don't yet do is search the space around us in real-time - the here and now. Enter Reality Search Engines.

One can imagine the space around us to be divided into a few distinct zones.

  • Manipulatory space, where we are are focused on objects close at hand - a supermarket aisle, for example.
  • Ambulatory space, where we need to walk around to find things - a hospital floor or an office building
  • Vista space, which is as far as the eye can see - a parking lot at a stadium, perhaps.

Enabling search in these spaces requires tagging physical objects and enabling computers to "see" them in real time. We have worked on several interesting examples of such search engines. Mediacart, one of our customers, has RFID-enabled shopping carts that search in manipulatory space. Tool Link, by Ford and DeWalt, enables contractors to query the ambulatory space in their vehicles in real-time and answer the question: do I have all the tools I need with me right now? Other customers are successfully locating cars in parking lots using passive RFID tags and readers from ThingMagic.

Passive RFID systems enable computers to "see" hundreds of objects per second from millimeters to tens of meters with near-zero error rates. This range goes up to over a hundred meters with battery assisted passive tags. Several different form factors enable real-time, ultra-local search on demand.

For more details, please take a look the presentation below. This Tech Talk was given at Google's Cambridge offices earlier this year. For best results, please view the presentation in full-screen mode at the slideshare site.

Ravi Pappu Google Tech Talk 2008

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