An article on the front page of The New York Times' science section on May 10 tells how researchers are working on projects to instrument portions of the natural world with wireless sensors—sensors enhanced by processors, power supplies, and communications devices—to monitor environmental impact in ways never before possible. "The rapid miniaturization of technologies . . . is allowing scientists to build innovative networks of small sensors that they say will produce a new era of ecological insight and, in time, help save the planet." The article quotes Deborah Estrin, director of the Center for Embedded Network Sensing at UCLA as saying, "Think about MRI and CAT scans and their impact on medical science. That is what we're trying to achieve."
Barbara G. Goode
Many of the projects described in the article (RiverNet, wherein dozens of floating wireless sensors track water quality in New York's Hudson River; Earthscope, which will track faint tremors, measure crystal deformation, and make 3D maps of the earth's interior; and NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network, designed to track birds and weather) are years from completion, but they point out an exciting future with sensors increasingly integral to our lives.
The next day, May 11, I got to attend the RoboBusiness Conference (www.roboevent.com) and hear an inspiring keynote address by Robin Murphy, Ph.D., director of the Center for Robot Assisted Search and Rescue at the University of South Florida (crasar.csee.usf.edu). Dr. Murphy and her team are developing robots that can be used for rescuing people from disaster wreckage. They measure success in terms of locating living people amid debris, negotiating the terrain in which the people are trapped, accurately assessing their situations, communicating critical information to rescue personnel, and interacting with the victims in ways that are helpful and not off-putting. She explained the progress thus made with the use of robots for such delicate operations, the significant challenges—both technological and sociopolitical—in overcoming them, and the high expectations she has for technology applied in this way.
And the latter type of challenge—prioritizing where to invest—is certainly the most significant. Bill Silver, senior vice president and senior fellow of Cognex, summed it up nicely when he said, during the company's recent Machine Vision (is not) for Dummies event, "It's a political question, not a technology question," about whether humans can achieve a certain technology-dependent goal. (You'll find more about Cognex, including its recent acquisition of DVT, in Business Sense.)
While researchers work to gain buy-in and advance technology to realize grand visions, we'll take inspiration from them and keep our feet on the ground. But that doesn't mean we won't deliver inspiration in every issue. This issue, in a collection of short articles called "SensorsWOW!" starting on, we take a special look at some of the here-and-now applications of sensor technology that caught the imagination of the editors at Sensors. We hope these stories give you ideas that inspire your designs.
Barbara G. Goode
Editor in Chief