Archive for May, 2009

Open Mobile Consortium aims at the “bottom billion”

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

The Open Mobile Consortium officially launched yesterday. From the press release:

The Open Mobile Consortium today launched its global development community to help organizations working towards social good to better collaborate and share mobile phone-based technologies. The OMC’s open source software tools help organizations to better serve the health, humanitarian and development needs of the “bottom billion,” the poorest and most disenfranchised citizens of the world…

OMC members share a vision that by working together to drive grassroots mobile technology innovation in some of the most challenging, resource-poor environments in the world, they will create a simple, flexible, and reliable set of technology that enable to individual and organizations anywhere in the world to effect social change.

OMC looks on track to succeed at the first part of our goal here at Open Source Sensing: maximizing the benefits of these new abilities. Given the vulnerability of their target users, perhaps we can assist with the second part, minimizing the downsides. “Social change” comes in more than one flavor… —Chris Peterson

DARPA integrating sensor data on ‘elusive targets’

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Nathan Hodge of Wired brings us news of DARPA’s plans for sensing:

It means stitching together information collected by different sensors to track a moving object.

Darpa’s 2009 strategic plan offers a fascinating overview of the different approaches the agency is taking to better track and identify these elusive targets. Some of these, like the Forester foliage- penetrating radar, tackle a specific problem: detecting enemy troops moving under the cover of dense jungle canopy. But another program, called NetTrack, would provide more persistent reconnaissance by linking together and comparing information from different sensors to track a target, even if it moves behind a solid obstruction.

The NetTrack overview on the Darpa website gives few details, but the strategic plan gives a better idea of how it might work. Using software tools, the system could stitch together information from a variety of sensors (synthetic aperture radar, optical, video, acoustic sensors, moving target indicators), and hand off to the right platform when appropriate. For instance, if a Predator lost a video feed on a vehicle that entered a forest, the networked system would cue a laser radar sensor to search for the target. Fusing or comparing sensor information can also help map out better routes for surveillance aircraft to ensure full-time coverage.

One big issue for us will be the extent to which the open source sensing principles apply to military sensors. Controversial! —Chris Peterson

Citizen-powered sensing of the environment

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Just out this Monday:

A new paper, “Participatory Sensing: A Citizen-powered Approach to Illuminating the Patterns That Shape our World,” commissioned by the Foresight & Governance Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, outlines how existing technologies in today’s mobile phones and web services enable new approaches to citizen science. The paper presents scenarios for how these techniques might improve environmental protection and personal healthcare…

Central to the concept is that individuals decide what data to collect and the extent to which it is aggregated and shared. The hardware and software are specifically designed for users to have this control.

Funded by the EPA and prepared by the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) at UCLA, this sounds like an encouraging report. Of course, it’s a long path from this to a publicly-deployed system, and getting that system to prevail over less-open competitors, but having CENS and the Wilson Center pushing for this is a good start.

Oddly, a quick search of this 20-page PDF for the phrase “open source” found no instances. It’s surprising that a report like this could be written without using this term at all. Perhaps it was regarded as too technical; the report appears to be aimed at a non-technical readership. Or perhaps the authors are not assuming that the system should be entirely open source or source-available, in which case there may be an opportunity for us to help get these requirements included in future system descriptions.

Check out the graphics at the top of the Foresight & Governance Project page: that molecular nanotech bearing should look familiar to Foresight members and other nano trackers! —Chris Peterson

TinyOS Alliance: an ally for us?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

As explained on their website, TinyOS is:

an open-source operating system designed for wireless embedded sensor networks…The TinyOS community has grown to include several thousand developers and users in dozens of countries, plus hundreds of companies, universities, and government institutions. It has built a broad technology base for wireless embedded networks in an open, informal collaboration largely rooted at the University of California, Berkeley.

This group’s focus appears to be almost all technical, which is not surprising.  But might they share our broader goals?  Part of their mission is “promotion of the technology, the community, and the impact of networked embedded systems.”

Of course they must mean by this the *positive* impact of such systems: exactly our goal here at this project.  Perhaps they would be open to some kind of collaboration? —Chris Peterson

OpenShaspa: for-profit open-source energy monitoring

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The news article cited in the previous post speculated that for a project to become a for-profit company, it may have to give up its open source nature. Perhaps not: see the Fast Company article on OpenShaspa, which has launched a home energy monitoring kit based on open source hardware and software:

Shaspa’s kit, which is constructed from open-source components, contains a system of wireless sensors that control home energy output…OpenShaspa can be linked to an open-source spin-off of Second Life called OpenSimulator.

The project seems to be aimed at getting people to share their data, which is fine if they’d like to do that. But if the technology is open source, the sharing can be up to the user. —Chris Peterson

ACme: open source energy sensing from UC Berkeley

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Reuters reports:

A team of UC Berkeley students have built a wireless sensor network energy management tool called ACme, and the group has released all of its hardware design and software information, including the sourcecode and API, on its web site…

While the set-up is similar to what’s involved with products from other companies, like Tendril, the team points out in a paper on their web site that most of the systems out there are largely proprietary. Tendril has released an API, but it isn’t showing all the details like the ACme creators are.

So this is a good thing.  Energy use sensors are soon likely to be all over the place inside our homes and workplaces; these will be great for saving energy, but could also be used for keeping an eye on what people are up to.  Let’s try to establish the principle right up front that we want to know what these devices are sensing and how the data will be used.

ACme stands for AC meter. Here’s the project website.

—Chris Peterson

Getting oriented

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

As I write this, Miron Cuperman is working on the main website, to be based on Drupal.

If you are looking for some orientation meanwhile, try the keynote from the O’Reilly Open Source Convention:

Slides, about five minutes

Video, about fifteen minutes

—Chris Peterson

Welcome to blog

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

This is an open source-style project with the goal of bringing the benefits of a bottom-up, decentralized approach to sensing for security and environmental purposes.

The intent of the project is to take advantage of advances in sensing to improve both security and the environment, while preserving — even strengthening — privacy, freedom, and civil liberties.

We have a unique opportunity to steer today’s emerging sensing/surveillance technologies in positive directions, before they become widespread.

This blog is meant to cover news and information relevant to these goals. While posts about the use of open source software and hardware for sensing are welcome, we especially solicit posts and comments that include consideration of the broader issues: how open source approaches, participation, and transparency can result in the benefits of pervasive sensing without its potential negative effects on freedom and civil liberties.

We hope to hear from you!  Just comment here in the blog or use the contact form.

—Chris Peterson