Archive for July, 2009

Tracking the sensor revolution, for big bucks or for free

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Wireless Sensor Networks report cover

Tracking what’s happening with sensors today is an intimidating task. If you have US$2700 you can get a big report on Wireless Sensor Networks from Bharat Book Bureau, which appears to be based in India. If you don’t have this amount to spare, you can get a feel for what’s happening by just reading the long ad for the report, including the detailed table of contents. The summary has helpful orientation material:

Many now refer to traditional active RFID as First Generation. Examples of this include the device that opens your car from a distance and the device in your car windshield that uses a battery to incur and record non-stop tolling charges. Another example is the widespread tracking of military supplies and assets by electronically recording when they have been near an electronic device that reads the tag using radio waves. Real Time Location Systems RTLS, that continuously interrogate the tag from a distance, are called Second Generation active RFID and WSN is called Third Generation because it works in yet another completely different manner to provide its unique benefits…

Progress is now rapid and the much smaller size of the latest WSN tags is one indication of this. While the original concept was for billions or even trillions of tags the size of dust, the first ten years of development of USN has more often seen expensive tags, some the size of a videotape or, more recently, palm sized. However, further miniaturisation and cost reduction are now imminent.

The ToC lists many intriguing projects and companies worth a web search. There is a section on Impediments, which includes privacy concerns as the first listing. We can help with that! —Chris Peterson

Quick intro to Ubiquitous Sensor Networks

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

For a 25-minute slide-show-and-lecture intro to this topic from an industry perspective, check out Ubiquitous Sensor Networks: The benefits of smart dust and mesh technology by Joy Weiss of Dust Networks. Her presentation helps get across why these systems are arriving so fast.

Joy Weiss photo from ETC Conference

Mass vehicle surveillance: the wrong way and the less-wrong way

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Roger Clarke has a paper titled The Covert Implementation of Mass Vehicle Surveillance in Australia which looks at Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), which he finds being done two different ways:

This paper outlines two alternative architectures for ANPR, referred to as the ‘mass surveillance’ and ‘blacklist-in-camera’ approaches. They reflect vastly different approaches to the balance between surveillance and civil liberties.

Basically it sounds like the wrong way is to collect all vehicle data in a centralized location regardless of whether the vehicle is suspected, and the less-wrong way is to have a list in the camera of numbers being looked for. About the latter:

Further key requirements of the ‘Blacklist in Camera’ design include: certified non-accessibility and non-recording of any personal data other than that arising under the above circumstances

This requirement is the kind of thing that Open Source Sensing advocates: note the word “certified”.

Apparently something somewhat similar to the latter method is done in Canada, but Australia is headed in the wrong direction, according to the author. —Chris Peterson

EU document celebrates surveillance state

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Charles Nevin writes in Intelligent Life, a culture magazine published by The Economist, comparing progress toward the surveillance state in the UK, Germany, and Romania. The Brits are ‘winning’:

Britain had the worst result in Europe, falling into the category of “endemic surveillance societies” alongside Russia and China.

Nevin quotes a policy paper presented by the Portuguese presidency of the EU Council:

Every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record. This will generate a wealth of information for public security organisations, and create huge opportunities for more effective and productive public security efforts.

Worth reading. —Chris Peterson

Sousveillance as citizen “undersight” raises tough questions

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Worth reading: h+ Magazine is featuring a piece by well-known wearable computing pioneer Steve Mann on the concept of sousveillance. It begins:

When Canadian police tasered Robert Dziekanski –- a man who had arrived in Vancouver International airport in October 2007 from Poland – it was not the surveillance cameras that helped bring the incident to light. It was witness Paul Pritchard who captured the killing on his camera phone. Dziekanski was tasered at least twice and then beaten by police.

This is but one example of citizens capturing their ordinary day-to-day life activities and uncovering crimes that have previously escaped capture by surveillance that looks only “from above.”

Later:

Sousveillance is a form of “reflectionism,” a term that describes the use of technology to mirror and confront bureaucratic organizations.

Sounds good. Now we need to look at the hard questions: where does one person’s ‘right to sense’ interfere with another’s right to privacy, where do we draw that line, and how will it be enforced? Tough questions, but we need to take them on now. If you find examples of work on this, please let us know here at OpenSourceSensing.org. —Chris Peterson

The Economist on mobile phone sensing pluses & minuses

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Alexandra Carmichael, co-founder of the open source health research site CureTogether, brings our attention to a piece in The Economist summarizing *some* of the current work on sensing using mobile phones. It concludes:

The technology is probably the easy part, however. For global networks of mobile sensors to provide useful insights, technology firms, governments, aid organisations and individuals will have to find ways to address concerns over privacy, accuracy, ownership and sovereignty. Only if they do so will it be possible to tap the gold mine of information inside the world’s billions of mobile phones.

This may be true, but these projects seem to be moving ahead in any case… —Chris Peterson

Scenarios of pervasive sensing & intelligent environments

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Prof. Vic Callaghan of University of Essex (UK) brings to our attention a paper addressing issues of privacy and intelligent environments, which includes a number of scenarios that help make vivid what the future is bringing. His email is worth a read:

I just watched the video of your talk “Open Source Physical Security: Can we have both privacy and safety?“.

I think you raise a number of very important points about the potential for misuse of technology. I research in pervasive computing (Intelligent Environments, Pervasive Sensing, Digital Homes, Smart Homes etc) having previously been heavily involved in robotics. In this work I became aware of how technology could be misused, in a similar way to the nanotechnology you describe. We became so concerned that we gave a talk to the UN (as we felt it needed legislation or guidance at a very high level). More recently we wrote this up as an academic paper which suffered some opposition and modification before we were able to find and outlet willing to publish it (its a rather unpopular message). We are mainstream researchers in intelligent environments, that spent most of our life promoting this technology so it was, perhaps, a little unusual that we wrote an article that might be counter to its unfettered deployment. (more…)

Smartphone sensing in privacy-aware environments

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Steve Omohundro brings to our attention a talk at PARC on a sensing system that pays some attention to “privacy-by-design”, apparently:

This talk describes how the mobile internet is changing the face of traffic monitoring at a rapid pace. In the last five years, cellular phone technology has bypassed several attempts to construct dedicated infrastructure systems to monitor traffic. Today, GPS equipped smartphones are progressively morphing into an ubiquitous traffic monitoring system, with the potential to provide information almost everywhere in the transportation network. Traffic information systems of this type are one of the first instantiations of participatory sensing for large scale cyberphysical infrastructure systems.

(more…)

Sensor network is parasitic on living trees

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Following up on our “they really will be everywhere” theme, Laurie Sullivan of RFID Journal reports that sensor networks do not even need direct solar energy to operate now:

Forest-Monitoring Sensors Harvest Energy From Trees

The U.S. Forest Service is deploying a climate sensor network powered by energy harvested from living trees

July 2, 2009—The U.S. Forest Service has confirmed that it will purchase a climate sensor network this summer from Voltree Power that is powered by energy harvested from living trees. The system employs low-power radio transceivers, sensors and patented bioenergy-harvesting technology to predict and detect fires.

Using the word ‘parasitic’ here is more an attempt at humor than a complaint; the bioenergy-harvesting is a very clever technical achievement. Our point here is that soon there won’t be anywhere that sensors can’t operate… —Chris Peterson

Privacy and security in the design of Intelligent Environments

Monday, July 6th, 2009

There’s still time to attend the Ethical Design of Ambient Intelligence workshop on July 19, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain:

List of workshop themes include, but are not limited to:
* Ethical issues of Ambient Intelligence
* Ethical guidelines for design of Intelligent Environments
* User and/or usability/user experience studies related to the design of Intelligent Environments
* Privacy, Security and safety in the design of Intelligent Environments

It’s being held in conjunction with the 5th International Conference on Intelligent Environments. If you go, please let us know what you think. —Chris Peterson