How will a world full of sensors change

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Interconnected world: how will a world full of sensors change us

here is an interesting experiment: please try to count how many sensors are around you now. Your computer has a camera and a micro microphone. There are GPS sensors and gyroscopes in the intelligence. There is an accelerometer in the fitness tracker. If you work in a modern office building or live in a newly decorated house, the sensors will constantly detect your actions and the temperature and humidity of the surrounding environment

sensors are ubiquitous in our lives because they also follow Moore's Law: sensors are becoming smaller, cheaper and more powerful. Gyroscopes and accelerometers are now smart standard equipment, but decades ago, they were both bulky and expensive equipment. Therefore, in the past, the application of such equipment was limited to the navigation of spacecraft or missiles. At the same time, with the continuous development of Microelectronic Design, energy and electromagnetic spectrum management, even a chip costing less than US $1 can connect a sensor array to a low-power wireless communication network

the amount of information generated by this huge sensor network will be incredible, but most of the information is invisible to us. It seems to be surrounded by an invisible wall. Only the specific programs of specific devices (such as the thermostat or the application that records how many steps you take every day) can access and use these data

if we can eliminate this boundary, the computer and communication industries will undergo major changes. Once we have developed relevant communication protocols to allow data exchange between devices and Applications (someone is already doing this), any program can obtain the data of sensors in any object. If this assumption can be realized, the ubiquitous computing era predicted by Mark Weiser in his article "computers in the 21st century" (Scientific American published in september1991) 23 years ago will become a reality

the era of pervasive computing will not come gradually. We believe it will be a revolutionary change, just like the rapid popularization of Internet. On Google maps, twitter and other applications, as well as those industry giants that launched these applications, we have seen that the revolutionary transformation of pervasive computing has begun to sprout. However, only when all kinds of devices can obtain data from ubiquitous sensors will technological innovation explode. The integrators of environmental information will become the next batch of technology companies with a market value of US $1billion. They will use the data generated by the sensors around us to develop new applications

it is no less difficult to predict how pervasive computing and sensor data will affect our daily lives than to predict how the Internet will change the world 30 years ago. Fortunately, we can use media theory as a reference: in the 1960s, communication theorist Marshall McLuhan said that electronic media (mainly television) will become an extension of the human nervous system. If McLuhan were still alive today, I don't know what he would think of the popularity of sensors. When sensors become ubiquitous, when the data they collect can become a part of human sensory information in a new way, where will the boundary of human perception be? When our perception is not limited by time, space and scale, how do we define the concept of existence

visual sensor data

we use all our senses to recognize the world, but for most digital information, we can only display it on a small two-dimensional screen on a mobile device. Therefore, it is not a novel view that we are trapped in the information bottleneck. In this era of information explosion, we find that we are increasingly unable to maintain our sense of existence in this world. However, as long as we can learn to use these huge data resources correctly, the dawn of hope will appear. As a result, our team in the MIT Media Lab spent several years working to transform the information collected by the sensor network into a familiar sensory language

in those years, Netscape browser provided us with a channel to access huge interconnected data. The software browser we are developing can help us obtain and utilize the coming torrent of sensor data. At present, the best tool used to develop this kind of browser is a video game engine called unity3d. Through this engine, millions of game players can interact in real time and quickly in the changing 3D environment. We use it to develop an application called doppellab, which can receive all the sensor data streams in the environment, convert the data into image form and project it onto the three-dimensional model of the building. Taking the multimedia laboratory as an example, doppellab will collect the sensor data of the whole building and present these data on the computer display in real time. Just by observing the screen, users can browse the temperature of each room, the activities of visitors and personnel, and even the position of table tennis on the smart table at any time

in addition to visual processing of data, the dual lab can also gather the sounds collected by all microphones in the building to create a virtual sound environment. Of course, in order to protect privacy, the sensor will process the audio information before transmitting the sound. After processing, the information in the voice is incomprehensible, but it retains the background sound of the environment and the voice characteristics of the speaker. Users of dual laboratories can also find the information of a certain time in the past. Users can observe the situation of a certain time from various angles, or view the data of different time scales through fast forward, so as to find the periodic phenomena that are difficult to find in daily life

browser software such as dual lab has many direct commercial values, such as the virtual control platform for large buildings with multiple sensors. In the past, when the building manager wanted to track the problems of the heating system, he had to sort out and view a large number of tables and charts, classify and summarize the abnormal temperature data, and then it was possible to finally find the root cause of the problem. If the dual laboratory is used, the manager can know the current temperature and set temperature of all rooms in time, and quickly find the floors or rooms with abnormal temperature. In addition, planners, designers and residents can understand the use of infrastructure in the building, when and where people in the building will gather, and how to change the way people work or communicate

however, we developed the dual laboratory not for commercial purposes, but to explore a larger and more interesting question: how will pervasive computing change the basic meaning of the word "existence"

redefining existence

with the continuous development of sensor and computer technology, virtual travel may become a reality, and it is possible to exist in a distant place in real time. At that time, the words here and now may have new meanings. In tidmarsh farm, we carried out a project called real-world observation station. The goal is to lead physical and virtual visitors to experience the changing natural environment. We plan to explore the change of the concept of existence on the basis of the actual observation station and the dual laboratory

since 2010, with the joint efforts of the government and non-governmental environmental organizations, the 250 acres (about 101 hectares) of cranberry swamp in southern Massachusetts has been transformed into a protected coastal wetland system, collectively called tidmarsh farm. Our colleague Gloriana Davenport is one of the co owners of the farm. Davenport mainly studies the future development of documentaries in the multimedia laboratory. She has a good idea, which is to arrange a variety of sensors in the environment to automatically shoot documentaries. With her assistance, we are developing a sensor network that can record ecological changes and allow people to experience this information. At tidmarsh farm, we set up hundreds of wireless sensors to measure temperature, humidity, moisture, light, and then to the beginning of experimental movement, wind, sound, trunk sap flow, and the concentration level of a variety of chemicals

with the help of efficient power management, these sensors can last for several years on batteries alone. Among them, some sensors will use solar cells, whose power can be increased to meet the needs of audio transmission, even including the sound of breeze, bird singing and rain dripping on the leaves. Our colleagues also installed complex ecological sensors at tidmarsh farm, such as underwater optical fiber thermometer and equipment that can measure dissolved oxygen content in water. All these data will be transferred to the database on the server. Users can query and use these data through different applications

with some programs, ecologists can view environmental data in swamps. Other programs are specially designed for ordinary users. For example, we are developing a browser similar to the dual lab, which can access the virtual tidmarsh farm through any connected computer. In this virtual farm, we simulated the landforms of the marsh and generated virtual trees and vegetation. At the same time, the game engine is used to add the noise and data collected by sensors, so that you can hear different sounds in different positions and get an immersive feeling. As a virtual experiencer, you can float on the swamp and listen to the sounds around you; Or explore different areas and feel the changes of the environment; Or dive underwater and listen to the sound collected by the underwater microphone. The wind in the real environment will also be detected by sensors and converted into digital signals, blowing the virtual jungle

the actual observation station is only a demonstration project, not a prototype of a practical system. But it is not difficult for us to imagine the application scenarios in real life. For example, farmers can use a similar system to view a large number of sensor data and track the humidity, pesticides, fertilizers and even animal activities in the farm at any time. Municipal organizations can track natural disasters such as storms and floods, find people at risk and provide timely help. In fact, for our daily life, this technology is not out of reach. We have long been used to using yelp (a software similar to public comment in the United States) to query the restaurant's evaluation before dining out. In the future, such software may also let us see the environment in the restaurant (whether it is noisy or crowded)

this way of remote existence may be close to time-space travel. We often open the dual laboratory during the journey, just to listen to the sound in the building and feel the activities in the laboratory. This experience makes us feel at home. Similarly, travelers on the way can also use this technology to instantly return home and spend a good time with their families


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