A sixth sense for your smartphone

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09 March 2010

ImaGeo can give tourists a real sixth sense. Imagine standing in front of an impressive renaissance building in Tuscany. Questions might form in your mind: who built it, who lived there, what treasures are inside? Should I take the guided tour?

To find out, you point your smartphone and take a picture. In a moment you receive a text message telling you about the building, its historical context and much more – all thanks to the results of the ImaGeo project, which received European Community research funding through the Seventh Framework Programme.

We are used to employing text search engines to find information on the internet. The aim of the ImaGeo project is to help tourists – and a wide variety of other mobile users – to access on-the-spot information about cultural objects, attractions and other sights by linking images with high quality positioning data.

ImaGeo allows users to stand in front of a building or object, take an image and receive information on their mobile device about the object.

“As we say, it is like travelling with a sixth sense,” says George Ioannidis of software developers and project partners IN2. “There is no need to take guide books anymore”.

The ImaGeo ‘sixth sense’ will reside in your smartphone. The project is now developing applications for use with Apple’s iPhone, and later on for the Google’s Android operating system. In the future, applications will also be developed for phones and mobile devices running the Symbian platform.

The use of a Web 2.0 enabled platform provides extra support for planning and on-the-spot decision-making as there is access to other users ’ input with the ability to match profiles. This means that you can find people who did similar things to you or have similar interests and get guidance from them on what to do next.

The ImaGeo platform also provides direct access to several databases such as that of the local tourist office, Wikipedia, points of interest and other resources.

Point, click, search

But how does it work? The key is enhanced positioning information provided via EGNOS together with information on the orientation of the phone that is encoded (or tagged) with the image when it is sent to the web-based database.

The tagging allows the objects in the image to be referenced and identified in the database. The appropriate data is then retrieved and sent to the phone or mobile device. As the service grows it will build up additional information that is generated by users themselves.

“As more users contribute then the database will expand and more locations will be included,” explains Ioannidis. “The concept is just like Wikipedia but image based. It will essentially evolve into a user-guided platform.”

Planning ahead

ImaGeo can help plan trips as well. “You can see what other people did and get information on specific places,” says Ioannidis. “And of course you can view sites and attractions as other users saw them and get their opinions.”

After the trip the system can be used to replay your experience, produce presentations and provide a space to file your images.

On the web platform there will be a variety of visualisation possibilities. “For example you could choose a timeline or location visualisation,” says Ioannidis. “You could retrieve data and pictures for specific sites and see what the place looks like through the seasons.”

The system currently uses GPS and plans to test the effect of EDAS corrections in the retrieval accuracy and performace. “We are in the process of defining and executing comparative tests with a GPS iPhone and a camera and EGNOS hybrid system,” says Ioannidis. “With EGNOS the system will be much more robust due to the improved resolution of the positioning data.”


The initial live deployment of the ImaGeo technology will be with the Siena tourism authority in Italy and the Dutch Stichting Landschapsbeheer Gelderland organisation. All have been involved as user groups in developing the application by providing content, user requirements and evaluations for the system.

“We are in many discussions with other possible early adopters. There is a lot of interest from regional governments and regional tourism organisations,” says Ioannidis.

And almost every presentation of ImaGeo inspires more possible applications for the image-based search and documentation system.

For example, the municipality in Rome has suggested a role for ImaGeo in managing road repairs. The application would allow officials to log road maintenance jobs visually and determine their accurate location on a database quickly. The application should speed up expert analysis of the problem and, most importantly, allow a more rapid response.

There are four partners in the ImaGeo consortium. IN2, which is based in Germany and the UK, is responsible for the core technology innovation in the project: the image analysis and the underlying database concept.

Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht is the Dutch project coordinator and is developing the system architecture, web services and the database infrastructure.

Italy-base Neos Sistemi Srl has extensive experience in developing mobile client applications, while Spring Technology GmbH, based in Bremen, Germany, are developing the web front-end and associated interfaces.

Galileo Application Days in Brussels

The project will be demonstrating a number of iPhones loaded with the ImaGeo application and a specific database developed for the Schuman area in Brussels at Galileo Application Days, an event hosted by the European Commission.

“Visitors to the ImaGeo stand will be able to ‘test drive’ the mobile app, capture images and experience how the system works,” says Ioannidis. “As well as allowing users to retrieve information with one click about buildings around the Application Village, they will be able to share information, pictures and routes with other users.”

Galileo Application Days, 3-5 March, kicks off this year’s European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC). Live demonstrations of cutting-edge satellite navigation applications using EGNOS and Galileo will be held at the event’s ‘Application Village’.

The event is being organised by the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) and the Application Centre for Satellite Navigation in Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO), the managing organisation for ESNC, which is also known as Galileo Masters.

The European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), Europe’s first venture into satellite navigation, improves the accuracy of the open public service offered by the USA’s Global Positioning System (GPS). EDAS disseminates EGNOS data in real time without relying on the signals from the three EGNOS’ satellites. EDAS is the single point of access for the data collected and generated by the EGNOS infrastructure.

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you do republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the GSA website (http://www.gsa.europa.eu).

More information:

Galileo Application Days

Updated: Sep 01, 2014