Looking for a friend in a crowd? Soon you'll be able to turn on E-Shadow, a smartphone app that helps people find others who are running the same software. Using wireless networks, E-Shadow's signal follows a smartphone like a shadow, identifying all users within a 50-foot radius.

An Ohio State University research group led by Dong Xuan, associate professor of computer science and engineering, introduced E-Shadow at the IEEE International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems in June. Now the group is enhancing E-Shadow's power efficiency and ease of use.

"We expect to finish the optimization in two to three months, after which we intend to release E-Shadow," says OSU student Jin Teng, lead author of a paper for the IEEE conference. Developed on Windows Mobile 6.1 for use on Android platforms, the app may also be released for iPhones and BlackBerry devices. The cost will likely be between $3 and $5.

Could E-Shadow be used for e-stalking? Teng says the software "has some features that can help prevent stalking. First, users have full control over the information published via E-Shadow. Second, E-Shadow is only used in certain social circumstances and [at] users' discretion. Third, we are exploring anonymization and camouflaging techniques to hinder stalkers."

We'll take that as a maybe.

Reprinted from the September 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.