As writes Vincent Tao for GEO World, integrating the billions of sensors already present in our environment with the power of the Web will represent "a revolutionary leap in earth observation." Here is Tao's opening paragraph.
The most profound revolutionary technologies are those that disappear. they weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they're indistinguishable. The web is an excellent example of such technology -- it's no longer exciting, because it has become part of our life.
So what exactly will be the Sensor Web?
With the presence of cheaper, miniature and smart sensors; abundant fast and ubiquitous computing devices; wireless and mobile communication networks; and autonomous and intelligent software agents, the Sensor Web has become a clear technological trend in geospatial data collection, fusion and distribution.
In short, the Sensor Web offers full-dimensional, full-scale and full-phase sensing and monitoring of Earth at all levels: global, regional and local. The Sensor Web is a revolutionary concept toward achieving collaborative, coherent, consistent and consolidated sensor data collection, fusion and distribution.
What would be the characteristics of this Sensor Web? According to Tao, it needs to be:
- interoperable: different kinds of sensors need to be linked;
- intelligent: sensors will communicate with each other;
- dynamic: sensors will be "position aware" and mobile;
- flexible: sensors will handle various modes of data transmission;
- and flexible: new sensors will need to be easily added.
What kind of technologies will be involved?
The Sensor Web's revolutionary aspect lies in its advanced integration of many "state-of-the-art" enabling technologies -- mainly sensor, wireless communication, positioning, tracking and information technologies.
Having sensors everywhere is of limited value unless the sensory data and information can be accessed and distributed to end users in an easy, timely and low-cost manner. Wireless communication and ubiquitous computing technologies are enabling such connections.
Tao also defines the four layers of the architecture of a successful Sensor Web.
- a sensor layer -- sensor design, materials, miniaturization, energy consumption, etc.
- a communication layer -- networking, protocol, topology, etc.
- a location layer -- locating, routing, addressing, etc.
- an information layer -- agents, management, fusion, distribution, etc.
Many efforts have already started to build such a Sensor Web. But what can we expect from it?
The Sensor Web presents endless opportunities for adding a sensory dimension to the Web's globe -- encircling virtual nervous system. This has extraordinary significance for science, environmental monitoring, transportation management, public safety, homeland security, defense, disaster management, health and many other domains of activity.
Our understanding of the Sensor Web is in its infancy, like the Web 10 year ago, and it's only a matter of time before the Sensor Web joins the fabric of our lives and becomes indistinguishable.
Source: Vincent Tao, for GEO World, September 2003, Vol. 16, No. 9, P. 28
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