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Location Technologies
2010 - 2011

Prof. Lorenz Hilty, EMPA, St. Gallen


The use of localisation technologies is growing daily. Some applications making use of these certainly offer the advantages of rapid geopositioning. Nevertheless, they do also raise a number of controversial issues, ranging from fears of privacy being restricted to the risk of abuse. Applications already in use in Switzerland and in other countries are currently widely discussed.

Localisation technologies encompass a variety of techniques enabling to locate of a person or an object in space. These technologies notably include satellite positioning systems, video surveillance or the analysis of wireless transmissions, both telephonic and digital.

Localisation technologies offer a number of applications that are useful in everyday life. In the transportation sector, for example, satellite navigation not only facilitates individual movements, it also enables the optimisation of logistics within companies. Positioning systems can also prove extremely valuable for locating accident victims, especially in mountain areas. While there are undoubted benefits, localisation technologies raise ethical and legal questions, particularly with regard to privacy protection.

The purpose of this interdisciplinary study is to enable an evaluation of the opportunities and risks of localisation technologies in the economics, work and leisure domains. The investigation will focus more precisely on the following questions:

·         Which localisation technologies are available now – in Switzerland and other countries?

  • What developments are expected in the medium term?
  • If there are conflicts arising from the use of localisation technologies, can they be identified? Which ones?
  • Who are the major actors in the field of localisation technologies, and what are their motivations?
  • What legal framework governs the use of the different localisation technologies?
  • What economic interests and consequences are associated with localisation technologies?
  • Which developments in localisation technologies are desirable from the population's point of view ?

In an initial phase, literature will be analysed in order to draw up an overall picture of the localisation technologies currently available. This analysis will also enable potential areas of conflict to be identified. Experts will be asked for their views to supplement the data thus collected.

Based on the results of this analysis, and following a list of preset criteria, two or three areas of application will be selected for more detailed study. The various actors and their motives, along with the context wherein these different applications are deployed, will then be examined. Scenarios with a time horizon until 2020 will serve to illustrate each of the areas covered.

These different scenarios will then be discussed at a number of focus group events. The aim of these discussions is to determine how citizens feel about these possible developments. Do they regard them as desirable? Under what conditions are they prepared to accept these new technologies?

Finally, this study will present a schedule of actions which should be taken in order to put to best use the benefits offered by localisation technologies while limiting the inherent risks.


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