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UCLA Magazine Winter 2003
The Rising
Honorable Intentions
The Cardinal of Westwood
The Littlest Bruin
Sensing the Future
Dershowitz, For the Defense
Bruin Walk

University Communications

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Winter 2003
Sensing the Future
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While the university is currently the focal point for embedded networked systems research, industry isn't completely sitting on the sidelines. Intel Corp., in particular, has played a key role, both as a funder and as a developer of enabling technologies. "This line of research can tremendously increase the spatial and temporal fidelity with which we obtain data about the world around us," says David Tennenhouse, Intel vice president of corporate technology and director of research. Tennenhouse notes, as an example, that farmers will obtain much more reliable spatial information with micro-weather stations placed on individual sensor nodes than from a precipitation report originating from the local airport. And with constant sampling and data readings, the temporal resolution is more precise, potentially enabling new phenomena to be detected. Along the same lines, Tennenhouse predicts that improvements in data collection will lead to major productivity gains in many manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

Formidable challenges loom. On the technical side, energy management has been a major issue since day one, necessitating systems that can automatically switch on and off as needed. Estrin notes that CENS researchers such as Professor of Electrical Engineering Mani Srivastava are developing techniques to exploit redundancy in measurements so as to overcome massive issues associated with distributed-sensor calibration; they also need to provide a programming environment for these systems so that applications can be implemented and updated quickly without violating the severe resource constraints of the wireless nodes. Social and legal concerns will need to be addressed. "In information technology, there's always an issue of who will have access to it, and for what purposes," says Pottie, an associate dean in the engineering school and deputy director of CENS. "The question is how the technology and public-policy processes should be shaped to ensure maximum social benefit."

While CENS is focusing on scientific applications, there is little doubt that non-scientific uses will one day move front and center. The surveillance aspect of embedded networked systems has the potential to facilitate large-scale monitoring of borders, ports and civil infrastructure for homeland-security purposes. More everyday activities also could be transformed. The Internet shopping experience could be layered on top of the physical experience, so that window shoppers could hyperlink to more information about products.

Says Pottie: "Once you begin to think of this in terms of cyberspace and real space being intimately connected, the possibilities become limitless."

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