In Cambridge, a city-wide network of sensors: Perfect for science and Big Brother

Before too long, Cambridge, MA, will be a totally monitored city with 100 general-purpose wireless-sensor nodes mounted to telephone poles forming a network called CitySense, Technology Review reports. Researchers could use the data to see where and when pollution peaks, track weather more accurately and serve as a testbed for new wireless tech.

Before too long, Cambridge, MA, will be a totally monitored city with 100 general-purpose wireless-sensor nodes mounted to telephone poles forming a network called CitySense, Technology Review reports. Researchers could use the data to see where and when pollution peaks, track weather more accurately and serve as a testbed for new wireless tech.

Already there are five installed on Harvard's campus and five at BBN's facilities. Each node will be relatively large--about the size of a Mac Mini computer. A node will include a PC that runs the Linux operating system and a couple of gigabytes of flash memory as a hard drive. And instead of using a common low-power wireless-sensor protocol called Zigbee, CitySense nodes will use standard Wi-Fi radios; two radios will be in each node, one for management and control of the network, and the other for experiments.

While the first batches of sensors will collect weather data and pollution data, more sensors can be added, such as motion sensors to measure traffic flow and light sensors to monitor parking spaces; the data would be uploaded to the CitySense network.

"With something like CitySense," says Matt Welsh, a professor of computer science at Harvard. "We're going to be able to blanket the city with sensors and get a much more complete sense of what's going on."

But, of course, the implications of having so many sensors tracking activity in a city is that the data could be used to spy on citizens, track individual (not just city-wide) behavior, allow internet companies to force advertising onto mobile devices, be subpoenaed by law enforcement. Liberal Cambridge seems an unlikely place to willingly provide new tools to Big Brother.

For now, says Welsh, his team has no plans to integrate video cameras into the network. However, he believes that the project is a great opportunity to explore the social ramifications of collecting data on an entire city. "CitySense is a good way to come face-to-face with the questions of what it means to outfit a city like this," he says.

In any case it's a technical challenge. How do you deal with bottlenecks and how do you keep the whole thing from crashing. Joshua Bers, a researcher at BBN who works on CitySense, said: "Clearly, if researchers are going to be using it, we don't want this thing to crash and have to have someone go up a light pole 30 feet off the ground to fix it," Bers says.

Another issue that will need to be addressed, says Welsh, is hardware resource allocations. Since numerous projects and various software applications will be running on the same hardware simultaneously, the researchers will need to find a way to make sure that the processors and memory are divvied up appropriately.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All