Skyhook and Eye-Fi Hook Up to Automatically Geotag Your Photos

5/12/08Follow @wroush

“Geotagging”—a geeks-only term as recently as a year ago—is moving quickly into the mainstream. And Boston’s Skyhook Wireless is doing as much as any company to make that happen.

Back in February I wrote about a collaboration between Skyhook and Locr, a German photo-sharing community designed especially for pictures that have been geotagged—that is, assigned a latitude and longitude, either automatically at the moment they were taken, or manually, by the photographer. Geotagging, one of the latest features sweeping the world of digital photography, makes it easy to organize and browse pictures through map-based interfaces, which are now a built-in part of Locr, Flickr, and many other photo-sharing sites. Skyhook was working with Locr to put its positioning system—which determines longitude and latitude by scanning for the IDs of nearby Wi-Fi networks—into Locr’s geotagging software for Wi-Fi-capable mobile phones.

That was cool, as far as it went. But while billions of pictures are taken every year with camera phones, the Locr system is no good for regular digital cameras, which take much better pictures than phones, and only a handful of which come with built-in Wi-Fi networking.

Now, for years, I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen that what the consumer digital photography market really needs is a camera with built-in Global Positioning System capability for automatic geotagging. And a few such cameras have appeared, including the Ricoh 500SE, but they’re generally very expensive and are aimed at professionals in the geographic information systems (GIS) business rather than consumers. It turns out that cameras and GPS aren’t a great combination. The signals from GPS satellites are so weak that they don’t reach inside buildings (where many pictures are taken, obviously). And if you’ve ever used a GPS unit, you know that you can’t just turn it on and get your location instantly: it can take several minutes to acquire the signals from three or four satellites needed to fix a position. On top of all that, GPS is a battery hog.

Eye-Fi-Equipped CameraBut Skyhook is again coming to the rescue, partnering this time with a Mountain View, CA, startup called Eye-Fi. Eye-Fi’s SD memory cards for digital cameras contain tiny Wi-Fi radios. By sending your pictures from your camera to your home Windows PC or Mac wirelessly, the Eye-Fi cards save you from having to drag out the usual cradles or USB cables. What’s more, Eye-Fi’s software automatically uploads your pictures to the photo-sharing site of your choice.

At the Where 2.0 conference in Burlingame, CA, today, Skyhook and Eye-Fi plan to announce that Skyhook’s Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) software will be incorporated into a new, 2-gigabyte Eye-Fi card called the Eye-Fi Explore. The result: automatic geotagging.

The actual method behind the Eye-Fi/Skyhook geotagging process is quite clever. At the moment each picture is saved to the card, the Skyhook software … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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