A Tag For Everything-and the Ensuing Data

E-mail Barbara Goode

A survey of more than 700 IEEE Fellows, done by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in conjunction with the Institute for the Future, sought to learn what science and technology developments are most likely within the next 10 to 50 years. The extensive results include the prediction that miniature smart sensors "will increasingly be embedded in everyday objects and places, forming the basis for a sensory infrastructure."

Of the entire survey, the one question that garnered the most consensus was the one concerning RFID enablement: 95% predict widespread proliferation—and most also see a great dispersion of wireless sensors that self-organize into ad hoc networks.

"As computing and processing move off the desktop into everyday things and sensor networks become widespread, every object, every movement, and every interaction online become pieces of data to be endlessly communicated, stored, mined, and analyzed on countless levels," the article says.

The Market Response
Many commercial vendors share this vision, and IBM is one of them: In an October 5 article titled IBM Software Tracks Computers, Trucks, c|netnews.com describes how that company is planning to offer "unified management tools" capable of tracking IT gear and physical assets—such as trucks and shipping containers—with electronic sensors. "Non-IT assets are getting embedded chips, embedded software stacks and IP (Internet protocol) addresses," said Al Zollar, general manager of IBM's Tivoli division. "They have to be managed just like servers and desktops."

Managing vast amounts of sensor data is clearly a major issue for the future. The IEEE article quotes Ken Goldberg, an IEEE Fellow and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley: "As we attach unique labels to more and more objects in our environment, our 'inventory management' systems must scale accordingly." And, Goldberg adds, "Comparing the required systems with today's FedEx package tracking is like comparing the [highly strategic] game of Go with tic-tac-toe."

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