Urban sensing, community (wireless) networks, intelligent edges & social tagging (Part II or X)

Social Dimensions of the Intelligent Edge Networks

Let me dive into the social dimensions of the intelligent edge, as a prelude to my favorite topic – The Technology Dimensions!

There are many compelling reasons to believe that sensor networks will be a big part of our lives – at work and at play, more importantly the places in between; my focus, in some sense, is the in-between place which the Urban Sensing is what all about …

A) Pervasive sensor networks are an eventual necessity and hence a reality

Life is getting more complex – even mundane things like traffic are not predictable and takes a lot of our time. I read in [1] that Warren Weaver in his address to the Rockefeller Foundation suggested problems are of three kinds – problems of simplicity, problems of organized complexity and problems of disorganized complexity. Jane Jacobs observed that cities have progressed from problems of simplicity to problems of organized complexity. We really do not have the time nor the processing cycles to manage the organized complexity for our daily lives; moreover the complexities will increase exponentially … Hence, we would be better off delegating some of the mundane, yet essential complexities to the machines …

B) But we need better interaction interfaces …

Currently the way we interact with the sensor environment is very archaic ! Looking at it holistically, we know they are there; they know we are there; but do they know that we know that they are there ? This is the principle behind many feedback systems like the tactile feedback in the keyboards, the blinking lights on the car alarm systems… they are all for our benefit not theirs !

C) Which means, the sensor network should be syntactically visible and semantically transparent

We do want to see them, be able to change the way they behave, we also need more selectivity in what they see and what they transmit … But we do not care if they use 802.15.4 or ZigBee or ZeroConf or all of them . We, as technicians care, but as users of these technologies, we do not need the visibility to that depth. But we do need a wireless dash board that shows the signal strength and if the networks we are going to connect are secure …

D) But this extreme edge networks cannot be internalized by the current Access-Distribution-Core model of the traditional networks …

The Core focuses on speeds and feeds, the fastest transport of the packets and defines the diameter of the network; The Distribution is about policy based connectivity and the Access is all about work group connectivity.
All the three assumes a flow from servers to the edge; but the flow in sensor networks are asymmetric (is lots of small messages flow from the edge to the core !) and of different characteristic (lots and lots of small messages than larger messages)

E) And Privacy and context based declarative policies are very important; they need to be built-in the network substrate – let me repeat privacy and policies are neither optional nor be an after thought

Like I said earlier, we need to control what flows in and out of a sensor network, at the edges ! In this regard I had some interesting conversations with our engineers; with UCLA’s Jeff Burke and Deborah Estrin as well as with folks from Monash university in Australia, Stanford University, UCSD, … and of course with our customers who are deploying sensor networks in their assembly plants, integrating with their logistics systems, deploying first responder and hastily formed networks et al …

We will discuss the Technology dimensions and challenges next …


[1] Cities and Complexity By Michael Batty


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