Very soon, we will see inside ourselves like never before, with wearable, even internal , sensors that monitor even our most intimate biological processes. It is likely to happen even before we figure out the etiquette and laws around sharing this knowledge.
Already products like the Nike+ FuelBand and the Fitbit wireless monitor track our daily activity, taking note of our steps and calories burned. The idea is to help meet an exercise regimen, perhaps lose some weight. The real-world results are uneven. For sure, though, people are building up big individual databases about themselves over increasingly long periods of time. So are the companies that sell these products, which store that data.
That is barely the start. Later this year, a Boston-based company calledMC10 will offer the first of several “stretchable electronics” products that can be put on things like shirts and shoes, worn as temporary tattoos or installed in the body. These will be capable of measuring not just heart rate, the company says, but brain activity, body temperature and hydration levels. Another company, called Proteus, will begin a pilot program in Britain for a “Digital Health Feedback System” that combines both wearable technologies and microchips the size of a sand grain that ride a pill right through you. Powered by your stomach fluids, it emits a signal picked up by an external sensor, capturing vital data. Another firm, Sano Intelligence, is looking at micro needle sensors on skin patches as a way of deriving continuous information about the bloodstream.
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Data about road and traffic conditions can come from radio stations’ helicopters, the Department of Transportation’s roadside sensors, or even, these days, updates from ordinary people with cell phones. But all of these approaches have limitations: Helicopters are costly to deploy and can observe only so many roads at once, and it could take a while for the effects of congestion to spread far enough that a road sensor will detect them.
MIT’s CarTel project is investigating how cars themselves could be used as ubiquitous, highly reliable mobile sensors. At the Association for Computing Machinery’s sixth annual Workshop on Foundations of Mobile Computing on Sept. 16, members of the CarTel team presented a new algorithm that would optimize the dissemination of data through a network of cars with wireless connections. Researchers at Ford are already testing the new algorithm for possible inclusion in future versions of Sync, the in-car communications and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft.
For the last four years, CarTel, which is led by computer-science professor Hari Balakrishnan and associate professor Sam Madden, has been collecting data about the driving patterns of Boston-area taxicabs equipped with GPS receivers. On the basis of those data, the CarTel researchers have been developing algorithms for the collection and dissemination of information about the roadways. Once the algorithms have been evaluated and refined, the CarTel researchers plan to test them in an additional, real-world experiment involving networked vehicles. The new algorithm is among those that the group expects to test.
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Due to the progressive development of urban areas and infrastructure, more and more people settle in environments that are or become endangered by mass movements. This situation is being complicated by the fact that the dependency of our society on a functioning infrastructure and number of human or objects in endangered areas increases at the same time. Early warning and alarm systems are an efficient tool to face landslide hazard and reduce the risk landslides, especially where no other mitigation strategies are suitable. Currently existing monitoring systems for early warning are available in terms of monolithic systems. This is a very cost-intensive way considering installation as well as operational and personal expenses. This displays the demand for modern cost-efficient technologies to upgrade existing and to develop new systems.
The main purpose of the SLEWS project is the development of a prototypic real-time landslide monitoring and early warning system for an efficient landslide hazard management. In this context especially the enhancement of data quality to improve recognition and analysis of hazardous situations and reduction of false alarm rates are of special interest. The whole information chain from data gathering, validation and interpretation to data retrieval, visualization and user specific warning is subject of the research project. The project focuses on innovative web technologies using standards according to the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) sensor web enablement (OGC SWE) and cost efficient but reliable micro sensors (MEMS) from the automotive industry. The integration of heterogeneous data and information from various providers may be established by an open platform strategy using the web service technology. The Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) integrates modern sensor technologies, data gathering, storage and retrieval as well as services for data validation, processing and alarm generation.
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In the not-so-distant future, the fuselages of airplanes will be fitted with wireless sensors that would transmit data on stress endured during flights and key maintenance information to ground crew.
The technology is being developed by aerospace and defense manufacturer, EADS Innovation Works, and offers the potential to make vast reductions in maintenance costs, which account for an estimated 22% of an aircraft’s overall expenses per flight hour, according to the company.
The system being developed by EADS Innovation Works would have data-collecting sensors work wirelessly and power themselves through thermoelectricity, known as “energy harvesting,” which means converting heat flow into electrical power with the aid of a thermoelectric generator.
“A wireless sensor network that supplies itself with energy on location is a good solution to collecting maintenance relevant data at a low cost,” said PhD student Dominik Samson from EADS Innovation Works. The system, he said, would save enormous amounts of time, because the aircraft would tell the crew where the problem was.
According to Josef Schalk, head of communications technology at EADS Innovation Works, the sensors could also be placed in areas such as the wing tip where cables cannot reach and batteries offer only a limited lifetime.
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