Bluetooth "Big Brother" tracks festival-goers
Fri Jul 3, 2009 2:59pm EDT
By Antonia van de Velde
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Researchers are using Bluetooth technology to observe the meanderings of tens of thousands of festival-goers at a top European rock festival, hoping their findings will launch a new generation of tracking devices.
The team from the University of Ghent in Belgium believes the research could yield new satellite navigation applications for the retail and security sectors.
"We have installed 36 Bluetooth scanners across the site and along a few surrounding roads, as well as bus stops," the university's Nico Van de Weghe said on Friday of the project at the Werchter festival, northeast of Brussels this weekend.
Within a radius of 30 meters, the scanners track mobile phones equipped with Bluetooth, a type of short-range wireless technology which allows different devices to connect with one another, often to transfer files.
But the masses flocking to see Coldplay, Kings of Leon or Metallica need not worry about their privacy, Van de Weghe said.
The researchers will only track the devices' MAC address -- a number that identifies each device on a network -- which cannot be traced to phone numbers or personal details.
"Werchter is a very interesting case," Van de Weghe told Reuters, adding that this is the first time his team, working on a wider research project using new technology to track moving objects, will collect full data on a live situation.
The team is carrying out research on geographical information systems, such as satellite navigation systems, and is hoping to be able to track moving objects in real time.
"Tracking movements via Bluetooth could become very interesting. It could help retailers keep track of the number of customers numbers at different times, " Van de Weghe said.
The technique could also be used by security services to track suspicious movements, or monitor evacuations at mass events.
Some 80,000 people from across Europe attended a sweltering first day of the festival in the small town of Werchter, 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Brussels, on Thursday, with thousands more expected on Friday and over the weekend.
(Reporting by Antonia van de Velde; editing by Mark John)