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Harvard Combines WiFi + Weather Monitoring

Harvard University and BBN Technologies are installing 100 sensors throughout Cambridge on a streetlight-mounted wireless network. The sensors will be in place by 2011 to monitor weather conditions and pollution in real-time. The sensors will draw their power from municipal electricity supplied to the lights, and are based on Linux running on some sort of embedded PC.

Read the article HERE.

This sounds a lot like meshed wifi APs built out of devices like certain Linksys, Buffalo, Meraki Mini and other routers. I’ve written about this in the past, in the context of ways Fon could have attracted interest in municipalities to use their devices for metro wifi. Such devices would have a spare Ethernet, serial or USB interface to attach an instrument package, and would aquire power from an induction clamp placed on suitable nearby lines (streetlights, overhead lines). The Internet or network connection would either be some kind of meshing scheme, or perhaps even Ethernet over Power Lines. Installation would take minutes.

The instrument packages would appeal to utilities, law enforcement and city planners alike. Some could couple with gas, electric and water meters to monitor resource useage in real-time. Sudden increases in demand could be investigated immediately, to find burst pipes before severe damage occurrs. The system could be two-way and allow the city to avoid brownouts by adjusting thermostats, or perhaps a homeowner can warm the house up remotely when leaving work for the day.

Law enforcement could attach gunshot detecting microphones (which I advocate) and remote cameras (which i’m actually not enthusiastic about) to help establish the locations of suspicious activity quickly. Homeowners could attach their private security systems, to watch their homes, or keep an eye on grandma, while away. Cameras are so cheap these days, there is no reason that private citizens can’t overtake law enforcement and watch the watchers for a change. Let us hope governments don’t pass new laws to “protect” us from these freedoms.

City planners can keep track of data on ozone and other pollutants, including noise levels. Weather agencies can benefeit from high-resolution maps of temperature, humidity, pressure and wind speed measurements across the city.

While this particular network in Cambridge will only be for these 100 instrument packages, they may provide public hotspots in the future.

I recall a study I read about 10 years ago where it was determined that if the utility companies actually paid to install fiber optic cables directly to each home, to connect to the meters and read them remotely, they would break even some 3-6 years later just by eliminating the expense of manual meter reading. The study noted that the cables would be almost entirely idle, and could provide additional revenue by providing Internet service to customers. This potential revenue was not included in the study’s break-even point, but would obviously have paid for it much sooner.

The main problem was that noone in management was willing to propose, let alone commit, their company to a project that would place them in debt for any number of years. It is perhaps due to this typical corporate nearsightedness, that everyone in the USA doesn’t allready have fast FiOS Internet connections. While it may not be necessary for utilities to actually install FiOS in order to do something similar today, one wonders why with high-speed internet and wifi available just about everywhere now (heck, standard phone lines for dialup connections would be enough – most home security systems use them), they don’t install a $20 device to replace everyone’s meters and save billions of dollars

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