The picturesque City of Bath is engaged in experiments that trial a number of new initiatives for using wireless technology.

A group of companies and three UK universities are engaged in the research project to deliver and study cutting-edge mobile applications, the University of Bath said on Monday.

Vodafone, Nokia, HP Labs, IBM and others along with University College London and Imperial College London are also involved in the Cityware project, which has a £1.2 million grant from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The companies have also additionally contributed a combined £400,000.

Location-based services tested

As part of the project, 30 volunteers who live in Bath will get the latest mobile phones and free service in exchange for offering feedback on using the new applications. They'll be involved for three years.

One of the applications that will be available will let users take pictures of buildings with their camera phones and send the picture to a server that compares the photo to a database of images. The users will then receive information about their location as well as about the history of the building and other nearby sites.

One goal of the project is to learn how to deliver mobile services in a historic city like Bath without disrupting the appearance of the city, the University of Bath said. The researchers also hope to learn about how to better design the user interface on phones including making sure that a phone alerts users of which applications are available at any given time, the university said.

Technology goes on trial

The Cityware project will use cellular networks and Bluetooth as well as near-field communication, a new type of short range communication technology. Researchers involved in the project will be able to receive information about the volunteers' usage of the applications.

The project also involves mapping the extent of WiFi and cellular networks in the city so that researchers can study things like where users make mobile calls and why. They'll also experiment with using unprotected phones and laptops in public places to study the types of attacks that might be made against the devices.