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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Phone tracker to keep pupils safe
Rave Guardian screenshot
Rave Guardian has been developed both by and for students
A system that tracks students through their mobile phones is among the new technologies being developed to help improve security at America's universities - something increasingly of concern since the tragic events at Virginia Tech in April.

College officials are increasingly looking to technology, from automated building lockdowns to campus-wide text messaging, to respond to campus emergencies.

One of the applications that is being pioneered to help is Rave Guardian - invented after research found that phones are one of the primary tools students use to keep safe.

Rave Guardian allows the student to set a timer - for perhaps half a hour, when they leave their friends' dorm room to go back to theirs. If they return safe they can simply turn off the alarm.

"If something did happen, it would transmit their location every three minutes - including their profile - to campus safety," Rodger Desai, president and CEO of the New York based company Rave Wireless, told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"So the user pops up on a Google map, wherever they are in the country, and campus safety knows that something may be wrong."

Student coders

Rave Guardian is part of a software package known as Rave Campus. The system is currently used by 25 campuses, but the company hopes to be in 70 by the end of the year.

Security company president James Sim at Drexel University in Philadelphia
New security systems are also being tried to improve response times
Rave Campus relies on Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) data for most of its applications to work - such as a "kit" for universities so that students can track the shuttles and buses as they move around the campus.

"You can pull up a map and see exactly where the buses are in real time," Mr Desai said.

"That way, you can save time and not wait for buses - but also, in terms of a safety point of view, if it's two o'clock in the morning and you're waiting for a bus, it's probably best if you know where the bus is before you wait outside alone."

The software has also been developed with the idea of handing it over to the universities to develop in their own way.

"We want to make sure the universities have value immediately for the students," Mr Desai said.

"The main premise is that it becomes a platform so that the university - and the students and community - can create their own applications with our interfaces."

One such development has been a way of inputting data from webcams on parking spaces, to see how many spots may be available before they set out for their journey.

Community tool

But Mr Desai also stressed that using the software for distance-learning is key.

"Things like podcasting and videocasting are becoming big requirements," he said.

"Students find it very fascinating. We did a small trial where half the students found they would listen to the same lecture again later as a podcast while they were working out, for example."

Mr Desai also explained that he is hopeful Rave Campus can go global - and possibly beyond education too, in places where the mobile phone is even more important in bringing communities together.

"Communities are beyond higher education," he said.

"We get questions from our mobile operator partners about whether we can do hospitals and military bases and cities in general.

"So I think there's a lot of interesting possibilities for the future - but I think we're completely committed to higher education at the moment."

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