Locate your friend in a crowd

Getting closer in crowd:  Smartphone app allows you to find your friends within 50 yards. getty images

For instance, at a business meeting, the software could remind a user of a forgotten acquaintance’s name, or help him make new professional contacts in the same area of research.

Dong Xuan, associate professor of computer science and engineering at Ohio State University, said: “Today, online social networking has advanced dramatically, but our ability to meet people face-to-face hasn’t gotten any easier.”

Called eShadow, the software uses nearby wireless networks and smartphones’ wireless communication technologies to alert users that a friend who also uses the software is in the area and gives directions to that friend’s location, according to a Ohio statement. “We want eShadow to close social gaps and connect people in meaningful ways while keeping the technology non-intrusive and protecting privacy,” said Xuan, who led the project.

As to users’ safety, Xuan feels that, at least for some situations, meeting someone in person is safer than meeting them online.

“Online, people can steal others’ identity, or lie easily without detection. It’s much harder to pull off a masquerade in person,” he said.

The name eShadow comes from the idea that users input their interests into the software, and their smartphone broadcasts those interests to certain other users of the software - but only within 50 yards of the phone.

 So as users move, the broadcast follows them around like a shadow. In outdoor tests, they measured how fast the software could detect users who were 20, 30, and 50 yards apart. They tested different numbers of users, from two to seven.

In all cases, the software was able to connect people within about half a minute - an average of 25 seconds for two users, and 35 seconds for seven.

Xuan noted that eShadow’s algorithms could be useful beyond socialising. Soldiers could use something akin to eShadow to locate each other on the battlefield. These findings were presented at the IEEE International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems (ICDCS) on Thursday in Minneapolis.

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