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Turning the World Into a Sensor Network

By Network World

August 16, 2010

Try to imagine a "world littered with trillions" of wireless sensors. Now try to imagine the problems getting even a few thousand of them to work together in any kind of intelligible way so you can know if that interstate bridge is near collapse or the natural gas pipe behind a housing development has a crack in it or how dropping your AC temperature by 3 degrees during peak demand will clobber your electric bill.

Those are the problems that a new research project at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is going to explore. It has, as most such government-industry-academia joint efforts do, the cumbersome name of Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator (PSII). The basic idea: Bring together some smart people, give them state of the art facilities and communications, and ask them to wrestle with how to build and run really big sensor networks that can deliver useable information.

CMU already has a lot of practical experience in sensors. It's launched an internal project called Sensor Andrew, which is gradually adding a wireless sensor infrastructure burrowed into every campus building. So far, Sensor Andrew reaches five buildings on the Pittsburgh campus, each using the networks for different purposes, from tracking locations of people to warning that a printer is still using maximum power, due to a low-toner alert, instead of shutting down.

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