Magic in the Muggle World: The Marauder’s Map

By: Jesse, November 14, 2005

With only a few days left before the release of the 4th movie in the Harry Potter series, The Goblet of Fire, I thought it might be time to follow in Mapz‘s lead and look at how an item from the magical world compares to our muggle technology. The Marauder’s Map is a piece of parchment enchanted by four rapscallions in their younger days at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which finds its way into the hands of Harry (thanks to the boundless generosity of the Weasley twins). This magical map is a detailed representation of the school: the different rooms, hallways, floors, and many of the objects within the school…all of these things AND a “real-timeâ€? tracking of the location and movements of each person (even pets!) within the school.

This is similar in concept, if not operationalization, to the current vision of the use of RFID tags on students and employees to track their movements. In the “muggle� (non-magic users) world, we have a GIS, desktop or mobile, a way to map the features of our own castle and grounds. We also have a GPS to track ourselves and others wirelessly as we wander the grounds of our castle. But what about inside, indoors within our castle, how do we know and therefore show where we are? No matter the size of our castle (or shack) we can’t reliably use standard GPS-enabled devices. This is tied to issues of signal strength and in our courtyard there is the issue of the urban canyon, or signal bounce. But there are options, as we walk into our castle. Our RFID tag embedded in our wand, I mean wallet, is read as we walk through a doorway. If each doorway has a reader we can know what room we are in. Brilliant, … but not yet a true Marauder’s Map. We do not yet have the accurate real-time tracking.

So, let’s toss our RFID aside for the moment and use our wireless connection. MIT’s iSpot gets us close to a user’s location, gives us a building, a floor, probably a room. If we switch over to Ekahau’s approach, then we can get fairly close to our real-time location through wireless, but the problem is that someone has to wander through prerecording relative signal strengths in order to use later. Good, but time consuming, and it may not be reliable if you add different hardware to the system. I think the closest we can get right now, outside of the DOD, is probably Qualcomm’s GPSone. This assisted GPS solution integrates GPS information with wireless network signals to yield a pervasive location solution. Now, I speak from the documentation on GPSone not the use of it, and we all have a cell phone after all. Your first grade child or niece or nephew has one right?

Marauders MapSo, let’s see, we have our magical tool, the Marauder’s Map, and our muggle options to make it happen. We don’t have to do it just one way; we have choices to make based on what we really want (I, for one, do not wish to know which stall you are in). And with our results I think it is safe to say that we could convince all but the most jaded that any of our muggle ways of creating a Marauder’s Map Lite � really is magic. Of course, now that we have it, the question is: who will get to use it and what will they use it for? Important questions to be sure, but maybe we will leave the issue of “Big Brother� and civil liberties to another day.

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Jesse is Instructor in Geography and a PhD candidate in Geography focusing on the integration of phenomenology and geospatial technologies to study prehistoric cultural landscape. He is a GIS Professional and Registered Professional Archaeologist and holds an MA in Geography and a BS in Anthropology with a concentration in archaeology.