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FEATURE

Bluetooth
Tracking
BY BRAM VAN LONDERSELE, MATTHIAS DELAFONTAINE AND NICO VAN DE WEGHE, BELGIUM
Researchers at Ghent University in
Belgium are using Bluetooth scanners
to reconstruct the path of moving
persons. Everyone with a Bluetooth-
enabled phone is a participant in their
research and will be tracked. Tracking
and tracing has been a hot topic in
retail for several decades. It now
seems that tracking of pedestrians and
vehicles is also becoming a booming
business.
How many people attended President
Obamas inauguration and heard his
speech? All sorts of conicting
statistics were beamed around the
world by dierent reporters. Some
said a million people, others that 1.6
million attended. Tis is a dierence
of 600,000, which is more than the
entire population of Antwerp, the
second largest city in Belgium. It must
be admitted that it is hard to count
people in open areas (Figure 2).
Bluetooth tracking, a neat technique
for following and analysing moving
objects both indoors and out, might
provide a solution.
BLUETOOTH
Bluetooth is a radio communication
technology developed in the middle
90s as a substitute for data cables and
infrared (IR) communication.
Nowadays it is integrated into the
majority of new mobile phones, PDAs
(Personal Digital Assistants),
notebooks, cars, satellite navigation
systems, and personal audio. Te
technology allows exchange of
information with other Bluetooth-
enabled devices. You might already be
using this technology to call hands-
free in your car or synchronise your
Smartphone with your computer. As
Bluetooth is based on a radio
(broadcast) communication system,
devices do not have to be in line of
sight of each other. Another
characteristic is limited range;
depending on power class, a Bluetooth
transceiver has a range of
approximately 1 to 100 metres.
RESEARCH
As a team of researchers in the
Department of Geography, Ghent
University, we are well experienced in
modelling, analysing and visualising
data about moving objects. From our
point of view, Bluetooth tracking is
just another tool in the toolbox for
gathering positions of moving objects.
As Bluetooth becomes more common
in mobile devices, so the ratio of
Bluetooth users increases and gives
rise to more reliable tracking results
and wider applicability. Te technique
is particularly useful when positions
are required only at points of interest
where positional accuracy is of
marginal importance. Since every
Bluetooth device can be uniquely
identied by its MAC address,
Bluetooth tracking has a competitive
A SPY IN YOUR POCKET
Every Bluetooth device
can be uniquely identied
by its MAC address
Figure 1, The
tracking project was
located at the Rock
Werchter festival
near Brussels,
Belgium (Image
Courtesy of GIM
International).
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Te dongle is a class-two device with a
range of approximately 10m. Te
embedded boards were equipped with
Voyage Linux (an ad hoc-designed
Linux distribution) and our own
software for scanning, processing and
storing data. We co-operated on a
tracking project at the Rock Werchter
festival near Brussels (Figure 1) with
two companies from the Netherlands:
Flucon specialises in customer
counting and developed additional
Bluetooth scanners for this project,
and Realworld Systems is a GIS
consultant agency from which we
received nancial support.
HOW IT WORKS
A Bluetooth scanner continuously
searches for discoverable devices. Tis
means that the Bluetooth radio of the
device must be allowed to broadcast
signals. Many devices have the ability
to switch this capability on and o.
Whenever a Bluetooth-enabled device
is within the detection range of a
scanner, its MAC address is stored in
a log le, together with a time-stamp.
Te data thus obtained tells us where
and when a mobile device has been at
a particular place. Obviously, to
gather meaningful tracking data
several scanners are required at
dierent locations. Log les can be
integrated in combination with
knowledge about scanner location in
order to generate a spatiotemporal
database. Te path of a moving device
can now be reconstructed and
visualised (Figure 3). Until today this
has been a post-processing step, since
data is stored locally on our Bluetooth
scanners. However, once scanners are
connected by a network to send their
data directly to a central database
server, real-time tracking becomes
feasible. As this considerably
increases the applicability of
Bluetooth tracking, we aim to set up
such systems in future projects.
PRIVACY
Bluetooth tracking on the basis of
MAC addresses does not violate
privacy law. In fact, it simply makes
use of a general Bluetooth function:
advantage over other detection
techniques such as surveillance
cameras and IR detectors. On the
other hand, not everyone has a
Bluetooth-enabled device, so only a
sample is taken of a total population.
Moreover, there is no absolute link
between an individual and a Bluetooth
device; people may pass devices
between them. However, such
instances may be considered
exceptional. To make an estimation of
the complete population the number
of Bluetooth devices must be
multiplied by the ratio of persons per
discoverable Bluetooth device. Tis
ratio can be estimated by making an
additional independent count of
everyone at a Bluetooth tracking
point.
EQUIPMENT
In essence, a simple Bluetooth scanner
consists of two elements: Bluetooth
sensor and computer unit. Te sensor
enables radio communication and the
computer instructs the radio and
processes the data. At the CartoGIS
Cluster in the Department of
Geography at Ghent we have built our
own Bluetooth scanners. To this end,
an embedded board was used as CPU
and a Bluetooth USB dongle as sensor.
Bluetooth tracking on
the basis of MAC
addresses does not violate
privacy law
Figure 2, It is
difcult to count or
follow people in an
open area, here at
Rock Werchter
festival in Belgium .
Figure 3, 3D path of
three trajectories in
their bounding space-
time cube; marked
begin (green), end
(red) and given time
(blue).
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FEATURE
scanning for nearby devices. Everyone
is free to use this function, for
instance when turning on a mobile
phone in a public place. An MAC
address is a unique identication
linked to a Bluetooth chip, not to a
person, let alone their phone number
or home address. As one can always
turn o ones Bluetooth radio, every
individual freely chooses whether or
not they wish to be tracked. Our
approach captures only the MAC
address. Hence, although it is possible
to do so, we do not register the UFN
(User Friendly Name). We are not
even setting up a connection with the
discovered device, as location-based
services would require. Earlier testing
has shown that people often change
their UFN into their true name, a web
page URL, a phone number, an e-mail
address, or whatever they would like
to share with the rest of the world.
TEST CASES
Te CartoGIS Cluster at Ghent is
currently valorising its theoretical
research concerning moving objects
by elaborating concrete case-studies.
Preparatory tests have been
conducted on the university campus
and in nearby streets, as well as in
Ghent Sint-Pieters, the main railway
station. Te rst real test case took
place in July, at the Rock Werchter
festival (Figure 4). Rock Werchter is
one of Europes biggest music
festivals, and has several times
received the Arthur Award for Best
Festival. It is of particular interest in
this context due to the extensive
festival area and large number of
visitors, about 80,000 per day. In this
project, scanners were set up at 36
locations in the festival area, including
entrances, cash points, food and
beverage stands, speaker locations,
and rst-aid posts. Over the whole
time of the festival, about 20,000
unique MAC addresses were logged,
resulting in an extensive
spatiotemporal dataset. Obviously,
the reconstructed space-time paths of
these 20,000 visitors will not be
extremely detailed; however, we do
strongly believe that the current
methodology will give new insights
into how, when and where people
move around at festivals. After
cleaning the dataset, the data will be
visualised and analysed and nally
interpreted in order to nd answers.
Te rst results are expected at the
end of 2009, beginning of 2010. One
thing is certain: the application
possibilities of this technique are vast.
Only consider safety issues at mass
events, logistical management, tourist
applications, transport issues, and
location-based games.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Te authors would like to thank Live
Nation, organisers of Rock Werchter;
the Department of Information
Technology (UGent-IBBT); Flucon;
Realworld Systems; and Roel
Huybrechts, masters degree student.
Figure 4, Bluetooth scanner mounted on a
speaker tower at Rock Werchter.
Bram Van Londersele is a second-year
masters student in Geomatics and
Surveying at Ghent University, Belgium.
His thesis concerns the Bluetooth tracking
project at Rock Werchter.
* bram@landmeter-geomaticus.be
Matthias Delafontaine is a PhD
researcher at the Research Foundation
Flanders and scientic staff member in
the Department of Geography, Ghent
University. His research focuses on
implementation of information systems for
the retrieval and extraction of information
from moving objects.
* matthias.delafontaine@ugent.be
Nico Van de Weghe is full-time professor
in Geomatics at the Department of
Geography, Ghent University. He
specialises in Geographical Information
Science, with a specic focus on research
into moving objects.
* nico.vandeweghe@ugent.be
Te application
possibilities of
this technique
are vast
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