A group of companies and three universities in the UK will conduct a research project that delivers and studies cutting-edge mobile applications, the University of Bath said today.

University College London, Imperial College London, Vodafone, Nokia, HP, IBM and a number of other IT firms are also involved in the Cityware project, which has a £1.2m grant from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The companies have additionally contributed a combined £400,000.

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 will be involved for three years.

One of the applications will enable users to take pictures of buildings with their cameraphones and send the image 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 such as 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 Cityware project will use mobile 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' use of the applications.

The project also involves mapping the extent of Wi-Fi and mobile networks in the city so that researchers can study where users make mobile calls and why, along with other aspects of mobile use. 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.