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Sensor Webs Unwire Ecology 79

Posted by timothy
from the can-you-hear-me-roar-now? dept.
jonbrewer writes "Pioneered by CENS, Sensor Networks are rapidly becoming a mainstream environmental monitoring tool. The NY Times has an article today with a quick tech overview and info on RiverNet, EarthScope, NEON, and Neptune. The Times reports 'scientists want to deploy millions of these kinds of devices over large tracts for long periods, opening new windows on nature.'"
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Sensor Webs Unwire Ecology

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  • yeah, that's the ticket. It's not to test equipment before the next Big Brother steps at all.
    • "yeah, that's the ticket. It's not to test equipment before the next Big Brother steps at all."

      Remind me to buy shares in Reynolds.
    • Yes, unfortunately it is a technology that is possible to abuse, but what technology isn't? The Internet was developed in close collaboration with the US military, but nevertheless it became a world wide technology that benefits all of mankind. Linux might be used to guide missiles, does that make it evil?

      With the large number of libertarian and conservative pundits and lobbyists who are claiming that environmentalism is rubbish (Lomborg for instance...), I welcome more hard data to refute them with.
      ...or
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:08AM (#12496065)
    A Web of Sensors, Taking Earth's Pulse
    By WILLIAM J. BROAD
    Published: May 10, 2005
    Scientists are turning 30 acres of California forest into a futuristic vision of environmental study.
    For free access to this article and more, you must be a registered member of NYTimes.com
  • by The Jabberwock (882129) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:12AM (#12496085)
    ...that NEON, which endeavors to study, document, and integrate our lives more closely into the natural world is named after a substance that has no known biological role?
  • Impact? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BigZaphod (12942) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:25AM (#12496158) Homepage
    Wouldn't having tons of sensors all over the place somehow contaminate the very environment they are trying to test? I mean.. animals aren't all oblivious to foreign objects in their world and are prone to changing behavior in response to them. I've seen documentaries about herds that move differently thanks to things like the Alaskan pipeline, roads across wild places in Africa, and the like. Lots of little sensors in the rivers, forests, plains, etc. would likely have some kind of impact. Plus, if there's millions of them, they are going to go clean them up someday, right.... right?
    • Re:Impact? (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by manojar (875389)
      Actually, this is a great idea. While you guys are at it, why don't you go ahead with the US Navy Sonar thing too? Who needs those wildlife, whales, dolphins, etc, anyway? God has given man this world just to rape it, right?
    • Re:Impact? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:41AM (#12496230)
      Right. But changing behavior isn't necessarily 'bad'. Isn't necessarily good, either.

      But how are we to study these environments (and hopefully learn how not to screw them up anymore than we already have) without some human interaction? We are on this planet. Interaction is going to happen. Maybe these little sensors are less intrusive than other ways of monitoring.

    • Well, there's your answer. We'll know how animals act when there are millions of sensors in their environment, so the next step is to just toss them around the entire planet and we'll be good to go... no sense worrying about biasing our observations if there isn't an unbiased corner of the world left. Maybe they can be biodegradable or something, or we can just make them out of all the old CRT monitors that are going to end up in landfills anyways.
  • Sensor Webs and Smart Dust and related tecnologies will prove valuable in ecological studies and environmental monitoring, but that's not the drive behind them.

    In Vietnam the US military attempted to install networks of sensors - seismographs, detectors for urine and sweat, detectors for nitrogen compunds (explosives), movement detectors, proximity detectors - along known NLF supply lines and for perimeter defence. They were put in place by Special Forces teams and transmitted their data to overflying aircraft for targetting. Often they were woeful failures or could be spoofed by the NLF.

    Here is the new generation, just ready for "assymetric warfare".
  • by Guanine (883175) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:34AM (#12496196)

    Having participtated in small scale ecology studies, I would guess that these senors will raise many more questions (which would be a good definition of the "new windows") than answers. Population ecology and the evolutionary biology that ties into it is a field with many more 'big' questions than most people realize.

    In most of the primary literature I cover, for every possible cause of a behavior (such as migratory routes) that is eliminated, another 2 consistently appear (seriously). I think we will see some very interesting questions, rather than any definite answers (at least in the short term). I would definitely like to see this used with the arctic tern [enchantedlearning.com].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:39AM (#12496222)
    "The Times reports 'scientists want to deploy millions of these kinds of devices over large tracts for long periods, opening new windows on nature.'""

    Well there goes any forays into the woods with your girlfriend.
  • I wonder how much things like the movie The Day After Tomorrow and such influenced people to get these things out and deployed, both for the reason that they're good for genuine science and also because someone agreed to pay for them after seeing that movie.
  • by stox (131684) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @02:21AM (#12496407) Homepage
    does Heisenburg matter anymore?
  • Smart Dust (Score:4, Informative)

    by Roland Piguepaille (883190) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @03:16AM (#12496591) Homepage Journal
    This reminds me of an article in the new "Innovators Section" as seen in Time magazine.

    Essentially, it discusses Kris Pister who developed Smart Dust - a wireless network of sensors, called motes. Each mote has a chip about the size of a grain of rice that detects and records things like termperature and motion at its location. The motes have minisule radio transmitters that talk to otehr motes. With a single network of 10,000 motes, the upper limit, you could cover some 9 sq. miles - and get information about each point along the way!

    Anyway, here's a brief description:
    innovationwatch.com [innovationwatch.com]

    Here is the Dust, Inc. homepage:
    http://www.dust-inc.com/ [dust-inc.com]

    Frightening technology in many respects, but I can't help but smile at the thought of the brilliance behind it all.
    • From watching nature, experts across the centuries have found uncommon wisdom. What will a shaman do with 100,000 sensor feeds? Perhaps she'll be checking terabytes of data between ecosystems for what is normal and what is not. The shamans almanac. And sensor networks will saturate our own environments just as naturally. Tons of new, never before available data waiting to be mined for more knowledge. Should be very interesting. Ted
    • AFAIK the Smart Dust group simply *projected* that they could build a mote the size of a grain of rice. The motes currently in production are the size of a matchbox, and have a couple of chips, connectors, LEDs, etc.

  • Sensor Network work (Score:4, Informative)

    by cureless (35682) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @03:24AM (#12496627)
    Sensor Network research has been going on for quite some time. CENS isn't the only place doing the research. Some of the original work actually came from SCADDS [isi.edu] from USC/ISI, with some of the same people now at CENS. All the UCs are very involved in Sensor Networks, Berkeley for example was the orginator of the current most popular hardware, the motes, now manufactured by Crossbow [xbow.com]. Intel also makes their own version of the motes, though they are not sold comertially yet.

    Most of the hardware runs in a specific OS called TinyOS [tinyos.net], which is open source. Other hardware, like the Stargates (also from Crossbow) run an arm version of debian.

    You can find lots of neat info about Sensor Networks from the specialized conferences like Sensys, IPSN, etc.

    Most of the projects done with Sensor Networks have been geared towards the biological monitoring fields. However, the funding comes in from NSF as well as DARPA so sometimes it is security/military based.

    It's an interesting world out there...

    cl
    • by zenslug (542549) *
      I've been working with motes for a short time now, and the way I look at them has changed since I first started. At first I was really focused on the futuristic properties of the devices and at how small they could get, what they could monitor, etc. Then having become fairly well aquainted with them and how they operate I now look at them a lot more like routers. Routers aren't as sexy, but wireless routers that can also read sensor data is still pretty cool.

      Essentially, the motes are simply what is necess

      • When you say "mote" I start to think about toner in "Diamond Age" or locator in "Deepness in the Sky", and I don't think we have that level of technology yet. Can you say how small your motes are, or what their range is? Do they spontaneously mesh? Size obviously says something about whether they're anchored or floating, now you're getting close to toner, and I think we're a ways from that.
        • Currently I'm working with Crossbow motes [xbow.com]. Some are the size of about 4 AA batteries stacked 2x2. Others are the footprint of a quarter and half an inch tall. Crossbow seems to have the best prices on development kits and individual motes. Ember, Smart Dust, etc. are much more expensive.
          • These things sound like they're named more aggressively than they really are. I'm not saying 4 AA batteries or a quarter x 1/2" tall aren't small. They're great examples of technology I can believe as extensions of what I already know. But names like "motes" and "smart dust" make me think of Diamond Age, and that's well beyond my degree+26+ years of experience in the semiconductor industry. AFAIK, carbyne pushrods and the other stuff that sounds like DigiComp implemented in molecules are still dreams, and w
    • Other hardware, like the Stargates (also from Crossbow) run an arm version of debian.

      I knew it wasn't science fiction!
    • by Vengie (533896)
      There is a hotbed of Sensornet research going on at Yale right now, sparked mostly by two professors from EE and CS -- Saavides and Yang. There's been a flurry of student activity as well.... [My senior/masters thesis was in MobiHoc 04, and they've had papers in InfoCom and elsewhere.]

      You should take a look ;)
  • Sensor nets (Score:4, Informative)

    by AndOne (815855) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @03:28AM (#12496639)
    I just finished a course on this particular subject actually. A few fun comments.

    In one biological study in Maine (Great Duck Island) it seems that the birds on the island they were monitoring had been attacking the sensor motes. In another case these devices offered the first look ever at night time migration patterns of zebras.(aka ZebraNet)

    As far as military applications go the one that I am most aware of is DARPA's sniper net. It's a system of audio sensors designed to locate and pinpoint snipers based on gunshot triangulation.

    There are some earthquake structural monitoring systems being built in California as well.

    However things to be cautioned about. The smaller motes do not have very much in the way of processing power(ie can't even do floating point) so there's no need to get really paranoid about secret cameras. Most of the motes with cameras are big enough you'd probably notice them if you were looking. Primarily the motes are equipped with various sensor banks for things such as Light, Temp, Vibration, Audio, etc etc. Also if you're interested in working with the software for these things the primary OS people use is TinyOS [tinyos.org]. However a word of caution, if you want to muck around inside the inner workings of TinyOS you're pretty much on your own and some of the things are already legacy. The coolest part of sensor nets, in my opinion,is the ability to do in network data processing as the data is funneled through the network. Oh and there's already a Database system designed for use in these systems. It's name is TinyDB [berkeley.edu](surprising naming scheme I know)

    Cheers
    • Re:Sensor nets (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Vengie (533896)
      If you combine sensor nets with any localization algorithm and GHTs, you have a combined storage/detection network. If you add power-aware routing, you basically create a long-lasting (self-detecting) event-storage monitor. The DHT/GHT stuff is fun -- but more importantly -- the projects are producing side research like optimizing DMAC protocols (and even a few at omnidirectional) and breaking TCP/IP assumptions.
  • closing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MarsDude (74832) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @03:31AM (#12496648) Homepage
    opening new windows on nature.

    Which ofcourse will be closed with a simple click on the right top corner by politicians who think that the short term economy is much more important.

    Not thinking about how much it will cost (in terms of money and health) in the long run to undo (if still possible) the stupid decisions made now.
  • So I can install wmweather on my desktop and get information about how the weather is outside since I don't see it from my cubicle. Even if it looks a bit weird that I get weather data for a city in Germany from a site in the United States. :-)
  • Niven (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rossdee (243626) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @07:28AM (#12497385)
    Didn't Larry Niven invent sensor webs in the Ringworld series?

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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