July 30, 2011

Sensors, Sensors Everywhere


Sensors will soon be everywhere--waiting, watching, and working to capture information about you and the environment we inhabit.

Every sensor is an opportunity to collect data and use that data for making better decisions.

Of course, we see sensors deployed first and foremost from our military overseas, in Iraq and Afghanistan, which uses drones to spy on and strike on our adversaries. The drones are really flying platforms of sensors and in some cases with weapons at ready. According to the New York Times (20 June 2011) "From blimps to bugs, an explosion in aerial drones is transforming the way America fights and thinks about its wars..the pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones...[and] has asked for nearly $5 billion for drones for next year." These drones are providing "a Tsunami of data" from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The change to drones is so significant in our military that the Times reports that "already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined."

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal (5 July 2011) reports that another type of sensor--surveillance cameras--are being deployed big time in China with a new surveillance network in Chongqing of 500,000 cameras (Beijing already has 280,000 cameras in its system) "that officials says will prevent crime but that human-rights advocates warn could target political dissent." While this project is significantly larger and more aggressive than other cities have deployed, China is certainly not alone in deploying surveillance cameras in their cities--Chicago has 10,000, New York has 8,000, and London has over 10,000. According to the WSJ, the overall market last year for surveillance-equiptments sales, not including networking gear or software totaled $1.7 billion! So smile, you are on camera--and it's candid, indeed.

A third article ran in Government Computer News (July 2011) on a more innocuous type of sensors to be used--this being the mass deployment of mobile sensors for the National Weather Service (NWS) on vehicle fleets such as Greyhound buses etc. Beginning in October, "2,000 commercial vehicles will be equipped with sensors...and will be sending data to NWS in near real time. We will be rolling out coverage on the national level." The mobile sensors will be taking 100,000 observations daily--every 10 seconds, about every 300 meters--measuring temperature, humidity, dew, precipitation, and solar information." In the future, we are looking at the potential of a "a sensing probe in every car"--for collecting information on hazardous roads, traffic patterns, and preventing accidents. Other applications for mobile sensors could be for "monitoring chemical and biological agents," nuclear and radiological ones, or CO2 and Ozone and more.

While sensors can collect data that can be used to analyze situations early and often to help people; certainly, they can also be misused to spy on one's citizens and suppress freedom. It can be a slippery slope. Perhaps that why Wired Magazine recently ask (July 2011) who's "Watching the Watchers" making the distinction between:

1) Surveillance--the monitoring of events by those above, the authorities--with CCTV etc. and monitoring events from control rooms, potentially from anywhere around the world.
2) Sousveillance--the monitoring of events by those below, the citizens--with everyday smartphones, cameras, and videocams and posting the digital images and sound bytes to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and so on for the world to see.

With IPV6 providing enough Internet address for attaching sensors to every atom on the surface of the earth and sensors becoming smaller and more imperceptible, we can soon monitor and report on everything, everywhere all the time. Some of the biggest challenges remain ensuring the information monitored is kept secure, private, and used legally and ethically and sifting through all the data to identify the truly meaningful information from what's just noise.

(Source Photo: here)


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