Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Push to taxi...idea # 51/100...

In the Blockbuster DVD chart, Taxi is the number one film, so perhaps the topic was lingering in my head and led me to the very interesting Google Ride Finder which I recommend playing around with.

Now, the idea is good, but the interface, despite its cleverness, is lacking. Why? Because it needs to be mobile. Perhaps catching a cab is a different process in the US, but here in the UK, it would be common to be away from a PC when trying to locate a cab.

This problem has been solved, to an extent, by a service like Zingo Taxi, which uses GPS-located cabs and location-based services to co-locate the caller and the nearest available Zingo-enabled cab. A charge of 1.60 GBP is added to the meter for this service. The cabs are specially equipped.

I had a similar example in the opening to my book, with an added feature of displaying the caller's name on the top of the cab (LED display) to make the final convergence easier.

However, in the new world of IMS, this service will be "easy" to implement on any network and won't need specially equipped cabs. Furthermore, the service can be made even more user-friendly. Zingo Taxi will probably be out of business.

One possibility is that in my active contact book, with presence capabilities, there is a permanent buddy entry called "Taxi" or "Cabbie", or whatever you like to call your driver. Simply clicking on the buddy icon is enough to instantly connect with the cabbie via a push-to-talk session. If need be, the caller could see where the cab is on a map and chart its progress, or even maintain voice contact with the driver.

What's going on to make this happen? Both phones have location-finding capabilities accurate enough to make the proximity search useful. Both phones are push-to-talk enabled. All this is standard stuff in 3G networks, albeit we don't necessarily have PTT and GPS-assisted location finding enabled on all networks just now (nor optimised for that matter - but let's give it time).

The only requirement is for a cabbie-arbitration service. This masquerades as the cabbie buddy in the buddy list application (that will be standard on all IMS client devices). It is this buddy that is invited to the PTT call by the caller. What happens is that this (SIP) session is trapped by the Taxi Server which acts like a proxy (or strictly speaking a Back-To-Back-User-Agent) and forwards the invite to the nearest available cabbie.

The Taxi Server simply looks up the nearest available cabbie using location-finding queries. It also only looks up cabbies that are "online" (i.e. available) and then forwards the invite accordingly. Hey presto! The cabbie receives the audio stream from the caller.

It is also relatively straightforward to receive an image to show where the cabbie is. The cabbie can have a URI associated with the buddy icon and this is dynamically updated from a mapping server.

Finally, the payment option is billed through the operator network using online or offline charging, via any mechanism that might be in place and convenient (e.g. reverse-billed SMS).

Push to talk becomes push to taxi!

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