OWL Phase 2 WAP, Oxpoints integration

When OWL Phase 2 funding was given we were asked to quickly put together a database table and front end so that IT support staff could register access points. We were aware at the time that the schema was going to be incomplete as we didn’t have a good location data source, but it was more important to get things underway in terms of the hardware deployment, so the interface was completed with a basic text location field.

Now the issue is correcting this structure and data so that it’s more meaningful and useful.

The University Estates Directorate department has unique building numbers (and room numbers etc) for all departments and we were impressed by what they’d done with their data (example: web based browsing of floorplans with popup annotations), however the colleges have their own numbering scheme unique to each college. Consequently we couldn’t adopt the Estates data as our backend since it only covered half the locations. That is – the unique way of identifying an access point’s location couldn’t be a building/room number because there is no common scheme for this numbering.

Oxpoints seemed like a useful backend, but the data would need to be created. We met with the Oxpoints team to see if they could import the Estates data, which they have since completed.  This only leaves the college locations to worry about.  For this our modified web interface will give the option of using an existing Oxpoints location, or creating a new one, with some care needed to get this usable and intuitive in the interface design. From here our application will then need to ask Oxpoints to create a location and have a location ID of the new location returned. We’ll then store an Oxpoints location ID against each access point.

What does all this mean?

The better quality location data will allow better automated scripting for infrastructure purposes, but it also gives some interesting options for other teams perhaps thinking of applications giving data based on location (a crude GPS). For example, a laptop with no GPS could still make use of a web application which knew the user’s geographic location. Although new services like Skyhook Wireless are mapping WAPs, of course many of ours are within University or College buildings which cannot easily be surveyed, so our storage of this data is still very useful. It’s also likely to be more accurate and extensible than the external service, being based on Oxpoints.

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