Slashdot discusses Open Source Sensing

Jeff Ubois brings our attention to a discussion over at Slashdot of our project, including this response to a comment that open source hardware is much more expensive than open source software:

Your point is valid, in that hardware has a higher cost of entry than software (and the relative levels of maturity of OSS vs. Open Hardware reflect this); but I’m not sure that it applies as much as you suggest.

Designing, fabbing and installing specialized sensors is one aspect of “sensor technology” and one that OSS is, as you say, arguably of limited use as a model. However, co-ordination of sensor values, turning the data points into some meaningful picture of the world, is more or less completely a software problem.

Also of note is the idea of building distributed sensor networks out of what already exists, which is largely a problem of software, creativity, and social structuring. For instance, consider the sheer number of cameras, accelerometers, and RF receivers, all connected to programmable computers and radio modems, that are running around the streets in the form of cell phones. For that matter, think of the giant crowds of happy-snapping tourists in most tourist destinations as constituting a sort of camera network.

The business of actually putting hardware into the field will, as you say, likely remain a more or less closed commercial enterprise, with some open source/DIY projects here and there (just as most software, even OSS, runs on commercial hardware); but there is a lot of room for OSS models in the systems and software that tie the sensors together, and make something useful of their output.

Welcome, Slashdotters, to the debate and (ideally) the project! —Chris Peterson

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