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Location: Key to effective intelligence

Maniesh Kulshrestha


Maniesh Kulshrestha
Head, Business Development and Sales
South Asia
SiRF Technology
[email protected]
The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. – Sun Tzu
Knowledge of location has always played a central role in warfare and intelligence. Before the advent of modern era, knowledge of location and the terrain were primarily human dependent and such knowledge was highly desirable and acquired to win wars. Numerous times in history, the winning army has succeeded by either accurate knowledge of the terrain and location where the war is fought or by denying the opponent of this upper-hand by leading the opposing armies to strange locations. In modern times, warfare and intelligence are enormous logistics exercises involving man and material and ensuring effi cient deployment and use of the same. Th is mobility makes knowledge of location key in planning and control of tasks to increase desired results. In times of peace, the key eff ort of the government is knowledge of potential threats to the citizens and the associated locations.

Accuracy of location
Accuracy is central to the usefulness of location knowledge. We may desire to have the most accurate location in terms of latitude, longitude and lowest tolerance. However coarse location can also be useful. Considering the practical situations, various methods exist to extract location to the closest meter or few 10’s or 100’s of meters. In some cases, location can be extracted to a much coarser level (building, area, locality…). Some knowledge of location is always better than no knowledge of location.

We need to have systems in place to ensure that the best possible location information is made available to the defence and police establishments for eff ective policing, intelligence and warfare.

Methods of determining location

Global Positioning System (GPS)
The need for GPS was felt with the rapid growth of missile technologies in the cold-war era. The idea of GPS was born in the early sixties driven primarily and funded by US defence establishment. The current GPS system became operational in the year 1994. On May 1, 2000 civilian users started getting GPS signals without any intentional signal degradation which was earlier a practice. Now we have competing systems launched by Europe, Russia, China and India in various stages of implementation.

GPS has now reached the common man. Most manufacturers of mobile devices have launched phones with accurate location information using GPS chipsets and associated applications. Reliable navigation applications for mobile phones are available for free download. The prices of these mobile devices have breached the Rs 10,000 mark and continue to fall. Soon we should see GPS as a standard feature of all devices.

GPS location has the virtue of being available around the globe since global coverage is inherent in the design of GPS. Wikipedia defi nes GPS as “The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based global navigation satellite system that provides reliable location and time information in all weather and at all times and anywhere on or near the Earth when and where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. It is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible by anyone with a GPS receiver.” While GPS location is mostly of the highest accuracy and availability amongst other contemporary technologies, we have one drawback: it is available under open sky. We have technologies which extend the availability of GPS location signifi cantly, however GPS location will not be available in places which are deep indoors or under thick foliage. Also, the accuracy of a GPS receiver near an obstruction deteriorates. Further, the vertical location and speed accuracy is not as good as the horizontal location accuracy. Th is impacts when the target device is, say, in a skyscraper – GPS will not be able to accurately pinpoint the fl oor information.

Network Location

Anywhere-anytime location must ride over GPS limitations – of availability under open sky – since we spend considerable time indoors. Also, the threat to the nation has changed qualitatively from essentially external aggression to more sporadic terror incidences in crowded indoor places in our cities.

Network location uses radiating sources as the key location inputs against the satellites in the GPS system. As more and more of the land is getting covered under mobile telephony, this becomes an important source of location to our intelligence (and has spawned a plethora of LBS services in the commercial domain).

Various technologies have been developed to use network parameters to determine more accurate location. Today, it is possible to locate a mobile handset within a few hundred meters and even within 50-100 meters in dense urban areas.

However, some constraints remain for easy use in intelligence. One, a nationwide system must exist for us to know the location of any mobile subscriber. Two, the lesser accuracy may make it useless in many cases where a 100m would cover a large and dense urban area – say in a locality with many skyscrapers or in a crowded area like a stadium. Th ree, the availability is still not 100 per cent geographically. Finally, no useful vertical location information can be extracted given the accuracy.

Personal Dead Reckoning (PDR) using MEMS

Overcoming these location awareness shadows is the subject to much research. The uses are signifi cant in intelligence domain (and commercial domain as well which is a key driver where the accurate location of the subscriber on a particular fl oor of say, a mall, can be lucratively used by location based applications). PDR is the only technology available today which is independent of any extraneous inputs to compute the location of the device except the initial knowledge of the device location. In conjunctions with GPS, PDR can very eff ectively fi ll the location awareness shadows.

For example, a person is walking into a large building. If we know the location of the device with such a person when he is just outside the building, we can compute the device location inside the building as the person walks, or when he takes the elevator to any fl oor of the building. PDR uses MEMS (micro electro-mechanical systems) which are microscopic (less than 100 micrometers), electricity driven mechanical devices. Sensors based on MEMS can compute the relative location of a device in an autonomous and independent manner. The key usefulness of PDR is that it is a self contained navigation technique. Further, PDR can be used to improve the accuracy of GPS in signal degraded environment. So, we have a viable way of computing anywhere-anytime location- by using GPS and PDR using MEMS sensors in the devices.

MEMS and GPS Location – complementing each other
How good is this marriage of two cutting edge location technologies?

We, at CSR, used both GPS and MEMS sensors to compute the track of a device from outdoors into the Great India Place mall at Noida. Note that the red GPS track is quite accurate outdoors. As the device moves into the mall, the GPS accuracy starts deteriorating. At places in the southeast of the picture, we get GPS fi xes outside the mall (error around 50m). However, after introducing correction from the MEMS sensor on the device, the error is reduced signifi cantly and the computed location follows the reference path much more closely. The error now is just about 10m. Now that we have understood the technologies available, we need to understand what these technologies mean to the defence forces.

Location for Intelligence and Security
Availability of accurate location information has become one of the key requirements for intelligence and security. As we have seen above, there can be multiple ways of accessing this information. Intelligent algorithms need to process the raw information into useable location information, which should at least have the latitude, longitude and the accuracy. Th e usefulness increases considerably when we have the speed and the heading information. Knowing where a particular suspect is (the latitude, longitude is required), having the accuracy (within 3m or 300m) adds value, and having the information where he is heading with the speed can be very useful to the agencies.

Internal use of location for security agencies

Automating location information availability to the right person has become a basic necessity for any organisation. For security forces, it goes without saying that this is even more important. The basic necessity is fi rst realised in logistics.

However, it is in the confl ict zone where location information becomes indispensible for effi cient operation. It would be much more effi cient for the soldiers to know their own location on a map in an unknown territory- and it would help them immensely if we can also locate their fellow combatants on the same device. In such situations, GPS can fulfi ll the need for location quite accurately. Even with deteriorated accuracy of around 50m (say due to thick foliage), the information would still be useful.

If we combine GPS with MEMS sensors, the location information coverage can be 100 per cent and highly accurate. But let us also focus on terror situations which have become a curse of modern times. Such incidents fuel the need to deal with terror event in constructed environments which can be in an offi ce block or a stadium or deep underground. In such combat environments, we cannot do without coupling GPS and MEMS sensors for extracting the latitude, longitude and the altitude (which fl oor?) information accurately.

Tracking suspects
Network location has played an important role in tracking suspicious citizens and visitors. However, there is a need to unify location information emerging from various sources. We usually can locate mobile handsets in real-time but we need to include other radiating sources like WiFi access points to increase coverage and accuracy, particularly when mobile devices these days use multiple radios. Th is will need a unifi ed infrastructure in place which can track across operators; and independent of operators. We can eff ectively build such a system using our hybrid location technology in conjunction with a database of radio (GSM/CDMA/ WiFi…) towers. CSR hybrid location technology can build the database of cross-technology radio towers quite eff ectively and make locating a device operator and technology neutral.

Privacy
In a democratic setup like ours, citizen privacy needs to be fi nely balanced with national security. Strong privacy laws are necessary to protect citizen liberty. The laws must recognise location information as Customer Proprietary Network Information; and for commercial use operators need to implement informed opt-in by the customer. For security and emergency use, we need to defi ne a line of approval parallel to lawful intercept, balancing security with common good.

Conclusion
Knowledge of present, past and future location plays a central role in security. While present day technology provides multiple ways of determining location of a particular device, we need to put in place the infrastructure to harness location for eff ective use.

When we need to locate our people in combat zones and eff ectively share location details within a group, GPS combined with MEMS Sensors are very eff ective. We can use network location to track suspects who carry mobile devices (which is usually the case). Our algorithms can locate a device within 50-100m which can be very eff ective in preventing unwanted incidents. It is in our national interest that we put in place an infrastructure which can harness best location for intelligence use.