What if you could monitor an entire city, wirelessly? You could collect data on pollution, traffic flows, weather patterns, even empty parking spaces. What would that mean for city governments? Future wireless networks? Hospitals? Businesses? Citizens?
We'll soon know. Cambridge, Mass., is about to become one big research project for wireless monitoring.
Harvard and BBN Technologies are currently fitting the city with wireless-sensor nodes, mounted on telephone poles. When complete, which could take four years, CitySense will include 100 nodes, all collecting information on pollution and weather patterns.
The researchers are well aware that they're not just testing technology. CitySense will also test the social implications of constant, city-wide monitoring. Already, there are whispers of connecting video monitors to the network, although the project researchers are quick to say they have no plans to do so.
By itself, the technology is simple enough: The nodes are mini PCs equiped with flash memory and running Linux. (Did I just mention Linux? Hey: Slashdot this!) 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 plus a couple of gigabytes of flash memory as a hard drive. The nodes connect in a mesh network using standard Wi-Fi radios.
The trick, of course, is not in the planning, but in the implementation. The article explains how they will handle node failures and other potential problems.
The price tag? The National Science Foundation will provide CitySense with $900,000 over the next four years.
Here's my question: Would you use this technology for good or evil?
I'd have to say my plans would be selfish, but simple: I'd map the fastest path to the nearest Ben & Jerry's shop on Free Ice Cream Day which, by the way, is April 17.