The New York Times (registration requred) report on a project at Cornell University that lets visitors with specially-equipped Palm Pilots read comments, written by students, about campus buildings and landmarks:

Like ghosts in midair, such remarks surfaced whenever the palmtop, equipped with a small Global Positioning System unit, was carried to any of the spots where they were written a year or two ago.

The electronic tour is part of a research project that explores the next generation of “context-aware” computers – devices that can orient themselves in the real world and provide information about what is around them….

Cornell’s tour guide, called Campus Aware, supplements this technology with richer content – the history and lore of campus sites – and with notes left “at the scene” by previous visitors. This e-graffiti, as researchers originally called it, adds a serendipitous and personal touch to the tour.

The researchers who developed Campus Aware have a summary of the project, and a related program called Graffiti.

From what I can tell, the system isn’t super-sophisticated, in that it doesn’t require special devices; but that’s not to say it isn’t very smart. Indeed, some of the smartest products and services are ones that skillfully incorporate, appropriate, or gently poach from existing technologies. Lots of location-aware services are going to be like that: the sparks will fly not after whole new infrastructures are rolled out, but when we get smarter about making existing services and technologies draw on each other.

[via Bill Cockayne]