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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 September, 2003, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Mobile chips with everything
By Jonathan Amos
BBC News Online science staff, in Salford

Manchester Police are to work with scientists to try to find new ways of tagging household items so they alert their owners when they are stolen.

Researchers envision TVs, DVDs and computers being fitted with cheap chips that identify their location and their proximity to each other.

If any of the items in, for example, a home movie system were broken up and removed from your living room, they would make an alarm call to a security centre.

The technology would also then help the police track down the stolen property.

"The cost of mobile phone technology now is such that you can quickly foresee a future when that technology is put in objects other than phones," said Professor Nigel Linge, from the University of Salford, which is hosting this year's British Association science festival.

"This can then be used to gather information about that object - what it is, where it is, and what time of the day it is, and report that information."

Learning behaviour

Intelligent software systems would then analyse the data to determine whether a crime had been committed. It may not have been, of course.

It might have been just that the DVD had broken and you were taking it down to the repair shop.

But the CrimeSpot project, led by Professor Linge, aims to be able to handle that kind of situation so that false alarms are prevented.

"If we can make this project work we would be able to detect crime quicker, and if it is known that you can do that, it has a preventative effect," he said.

The chips would be driven by a range of current and near-future technologies, including wireless, LAN and satellite.

Data overload

One major stumbling block, however, could be an immense information processing headache - especially if millions of everyday items are all trying to report their status at once.

"But part of the research is to ask that just that question. It is easy to think of five or six objects in a room - but how many rooms in house, how many houses in a town. It could be a horrendous computing programme.

"There are architectures to scale it, but what is the right one?"

The CrimeSpot Project hopes to have some demonstrators within six months. It still requires a major part of its funding to proceed but it has already secured financial backing from the Greater Manchester Constabulary and the alarm monitoring company Initial Electronic Security.

If the project develops into a real application then it is the likes of IES that will have to operate it.


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