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Wireless and Sensing Technology to Monitor and Manage Our World in New Ways

ne of the goals of the California Institute forTelecommunication
and Information Technology, or Cal-(IT)2, (see related article p. 8) is to extend the power of telecommunications and information technology to provide scientific data to support public policy development and serve real-time needs of professionals in the field. Awarded December 7, 2000, Cal-(IT)2 is a partnership between UCSD and UC Irvine that features key
involvement of SDSC and the PACI partnerships to leverage grid technology in new ways.

As one example of an early project, Cal-(IT)2 will partner with SDSC, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the UCSD Structural Engineering Department, and UC Irvine's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Institute of Transportation Studies. Cal-(IT)2 will extend the anticipated emergence of an all-optical core of the wired Internet with a digital wireless infrastructure to enable inclusion of sensing devices as new "end points" on the Internet. This development will enable us to monitor, manage, and interact with our world in fundamentally new ways-all based on scientific data, whether it's data accessed and evaluated in real time or in concert with analysis of decades of previously collected data to evaluate trends and predict the potential for a specific event of interest.

What is particularly exciting here is that these sensors will be able to monitor an unusually wide variety of "environmental indicators" broadly conceived, including:

  • Seismic activity and its impact on the civil infrastructure (e.g., housing, bridges, dams, and roadways).
  • Snowpack and water runoff (indicators of the ongoing availability of water).
  • Coastal water conditions (e.g., wave heights during storm conditions, indicating potential for damage to oceanfront homes).
  • Pollution in the water system (e.g., the presence of chromium VI, a potential carcinogen, and E. Coli, which has forced repeated beach closings at Huntington Beach in the Los Angeles area).
  • Transportation loads on critical freeways (this information will be used to suggest alternate, less congested routes to drivers).
  • Emergency situations that alert public authorities (police, highway patrol, hospital emergency rooms) with respect to problems and projected injuries related to failing bridges, accident conditions along roadways, and so on.

Significantly, it will even be possible to extend such monitoring to one's home. Imagine a scenario in which an elderly patient, who by today's standards might need to be in a hospital, can maintain a relatively normal lifestyle at home-through Internet monitoring of his insulin levels or potentially irregular heart beat. Sensors, now being designed, will be able to reside on-ultimately within-the human body, such that these types of patients will be able to live in their homes but be only an Internet "phone call" away to their emergency provider when their health dictates.

Addressing these needs is clearly a tall order: The amazing thing is that it's possible. The first step the institute plans to take to realize this capability is to begin instrumenting the "High Tech Coast," a region roughly defined by Irvine to the north and San Diego and the Tijuana, Mexico, area to the south-an approximately 100-mile area north to south. Cal-(IT)2 will take the lessons learned from groundbreaking projects such as the High-Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) led by SDSC and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to extend wireless networking to Orange County, Yosemite Valley, the offshore environment, and possibly as far north as Pt. Concepcion, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. HPWREN has already constructed a high-performance wireless backbone connecting UCSD with remote areas of San Diego County (see story p. 16).

Critical to the Cal-(IT)2 testbed will be the computing, communications, data, and visualization infrastructure that will be architected as part of the institute's first-year activities. The "user interface" will be a prototype control room, a command-and-control venue where scientists and policy makers can access, "fuse," and evaluate data to support decision making.

In this context, the institute, in tandem with industrial partners, will prototype technologies so that the latter can evaluate the usefulness of the emerging technologies and identify potential market niches important to the overall integrated Internet as it evolves and new applications opportunities emerge.

More exciting still, we expect this infrastructure will be both scalable and exportable to other regions, even other countries. For instance, more than half of the world's population lives within 50 miles of a coast. As others see the benefit of this instrumentation plan, we expect they'll want to adopt the technology, and we're prepared to help them.&nbsp

By Larry Smarr
Institute Director, California Institute for Telecommmunications and Information Technology