Software gives descriptive directions
Technology Research News
directions for getting from one place to another are a staple of the Internet
age, but they rarely include landmarks.
Landmarks, however, are an almost indispensable component of directions.
They identify places to turn and provide assurance that you are headed the
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are looking
to incorporate landmarks into automatically-generated directions using software
that models the geographical relationships between spaces and their functions.
The Location Awareness Information Representation software, dubbed
Lair, can be used to represent a person's location, what that person is
near, and what a person can do at those nearby places. The directions are
"similar to those a person would give -- [they] use landmarks to identify
places to turn," said Gary Look, a researcher at MIT.
The researchers used the software to produce an application that
provides walking directions within the Stata Center, the university's new
computer science building. The software could eventually be used to produce
many types of intelligent trip planning applications, including one that
lists the closest places to carry out an errand, said Look.
The system generates directions from a database of information about
places, paths and functional descriptions of the places.
Places can be rooms, buildings, neighborhoods, cities, states, regions
or countries. Places have six properties: name, on, star, view, contained
and function. The "on" property is a list of paths the place is on. The
star property is a geometric description of the intersections of the paths
that meet at the place. The view property is a list of other places within
sight. The contained property is a list of larger places containing the
place in question. The function property is a description of how the place
is used and what activities can be done there.
Paths can be roads or hallways. Paths have a name and a row, or
a list of places along the path. Place functions have a name and a list
of actions that can be performed at the place.
The researchers studied written directions provided by people and
determined that indoor walking directions should have certain properties.
Walking directions should not use measured distances, compass headings or
be limited to "go to" and "turn" instructions. Instead, they should use
landmarks to identify turns and verify travel direction, describe the spaces
routes pass by or through, use doors as landmarks, and describe hallway
The system generates a graphical route map, then produces written
directions from the map. To derive walking directions from a map, the system
groups waypoints into sets that represent segments of a path along the route.
The system knows that two paths intersect where two sets share a waypoint,
and that in this case a turn is required, according to Look. And because
the system models the geometry of intersections -- the star property --
it can determine which direction to turn.
The system uses two rules for describing turns: use phrases like
"turn right at the end of the hallway" to indicate points in routes where
paths end, and phrases like "when you enter the lobby, turn left" to incorporate
landmarks and functional descriptions of intersections.
And it keeps directions short by using the visibility of landmarks
to generate "you will see" phrases. This allows it to avoid having to tell
the user to walk straight through every intersection that comes before a
turn, according to Look. "Landmarks are also used to assure a person is
headed in the right direction," he said.
The system indicates when to walk through doors, and includes the
functional description of the space on the other side with phrases like
"walk through the doorway into the lounge."
It also segments directions into groups based on number of instructions
and determines where to split instructions based on geographic similarities.
For example, a set of instructions that spans floors could be split to group
the instructions by floor.
The researchers have also developed a related tool, the Interactive
Simulator for Lair Exploration, that allows users to ask questions about
places and routes like "Where am I?", "Describe this place.", "What can
I do here?", "How will I know I'm going in the right direction?", "Is place
X near place Y?" and "Is place P along my route from X to Y?"
The query tool could be used with handheld computers that track
a user's position using indoor equivalents of the Global Positioning System.
The researchers are working to improve the directions-generating
system by better understanding how people make decisions based on their
surroundings. Their next steps include a formal study of the quality of
the system's directions and making it possible to automatically define places
and paths from architectural drawings, according to Look.
The method could be used practically in two to five years, said
Look's research colleagues were Buddhika Kottahachchi, Robert Laddaga
and Howard Shrobe. The researchers presented the work at the Intelligent
User Interfaces conference (IUI'05) held January 9 to 12, 2005 in San Diego,
California. The research was funded by the university.
Timeline: 2-5 years
TRN Categories: Databases and Information Retrieval; Human-Computer
Story Type: News
Related Elements: Technical paper, "A Location Representation
for Generating Descriptive Walking Directions," Intelligent User Interfaces
conference (IUI'05), San Diego, California, January 9-12, 2005
February 23/March 2, 2005
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