Just recently, Softbank Mobile, Japan's biggest cell phone carrier, signed a deal with Aoyama Gakuin University to provide iPhone 3Gs to 1,000 students to keep tabs of their attendance via the phone's Global Positioning System. The company now has a plan to equip the same amount of elementary-school students with GPS phones.
However, the purpose this time is much more serious than nabbing truants. As reported by the Associated Press, this is to test how GPS-enabled cell phones can help track the spreading of an infectious disease and stop it from becoming a pandemic. This is part of the Japanese government's effort to promote Japan's Internet and cellular infrastructure to new users.
This government-backed experiment uses a virtual sickness that is highly contagious. A few months from now, a few students will be chosen to be "infected" with this sickness. Their movements will then be tracked via their cell phones and compared with other students. Stored GPS data can then be used to determine which children have crossed paths with the infected students and are at risk of having contracted the disease.
The families of exposed students will be notified via cell phone messages with instructions on how to get them checked out by doctors. In a real-world outbreak, this could help better control the rate of new infections.
The significance of this level of control is demonstrated via Softbank's calculation: If an infected person spreads the illness to another three people per day, and each newly infected person then makes another three people sick, on the 10th day about 60,000 people would catch the disease. However, if each sick person only infected two people a day, after 10 days, then only about 1,500 people would get sick. … Read more