Sensor webs stand as a breakthrough in Information Technology (IT). The technology has successfully been able to merge the internet and a network of sensor systems. This is an advance from the ubiquitous World Wide Web to sensor acquired live data and a web of information about our immediate surroundings. It has great potential in understanding the science of the earth system and in furthering socio-ecological system sustainability through better access to information, transparency and informed decision making.
Due to the inherent variability of sensor systems in terms of hardware specifications, protocols, interfaces, and communication styles, it becomes very hard to use and manage sensor resources to generate real-time and dynamic environmental information to help in development of a holistic perspective. A multi-layered sensor web has the potential solution for that. The sensor web is a multi-potent and widely usable single-window resource with a network of sensors, associated links, data and metadata with capabilities for autonomous self-organisation and adaptive capabilities to work as a coordinated super-instrument, which can be queried and searched by a normal web browser like any other documents, pictures or videos in World Wide Web. It gives an opportunity to develop applications or raise questions based on system-level dynamic information provided by the system. It ensures the much-wanted capabilities to address the intricate dynamism and scalability of the earth system science research. The timely availability of sensor data supplemented by functionality to search, deploy, plan, and task other sensor resources, guarantee the utility, durability and extension of sensor web observations.
An initiative called the Open Geospatial Consortium's (OGC) Sensor Web Enablement (SWE), started in 2003, aims to smoothen out the glaring disparities among deployed and prospective sensor systems by defining them through open standards. The open-ended capability of sensor web, defined by open standards, models, services, and meta-data definitions, captures the interactions between discrete sensors. It encapsulates the integration of sensors with their single or prime observation objective of observing the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, or biosphere characteristics to allow bringing about a holistic view. The opportunity provided by the sensor web can be considered as defining and refining the earth systems science research by integrating its multi and interdisciplinary reality. An exalted image of the earth system, rather than the currently utilitarian one, based on its physical basis and its rational understanding and interpretation, facilitating its positive, sustainable, and holistic management can be achieved through SWE of earth observation systems used from a liberalist perspective.
To ensure sustainability in a multi-dimensionally interacting noosphere system, it is vital to consider diverse institutions and actors in the socio-ecological system in a system-level perspective and inculcation of radical adaptive measures. A synergy between the understandings of physical, chemical, biological, ecological and social systems not disregarding experience from other unconventional knowledge systems is required. ‘Ecological intelligence’ that allow us to comprehend systems in all complexity, as well as the interplay between the natural and man-made worlds and ‘radical transparency’ that assures universal access to all information is to be cultivated to ensure sustainability in a realistic sense. Sensor webs could be one among the steps to move forward in this line - by establishing tools for multivariate pluralistic monitoring of the earth systems to generate dynamic perception, conflict resolution, and for devising appropriate adaptive strategy.
Recent technological and industrial advancement in micro-fabrication of electronics especially in sensing technology and wireless communication devices are facilitating the reduction of cost for sensor systems and its inclusion in mobile phones. The main achievement of this trend would be increased accessibility of low-cost sensors for the common public. This would help to ensure a participatory approach for pluralistic monitoring of the socio-ecological system and understanding of its dynamics.
Sensor webs can help in integrating immensely heterogeneous personal sensors and in disseminating location-based contextual information. By adopting a participatory approach, it strengthens the communities by promoting awareness and by empowering them for negotiations for healthier environmental conditions. Especially in the Indian scenario, participatory approach and openness of information along with governance spreading to the grass-root level through the Panchayati raj system can take effective actions. With the required limited expertise, common people can uphold and realize the power of self-determination to have better living conditions and can impose policy level interventions at the local ward or panchayat levels. In brief, using such systems affected communities or villages can gain major advantages and voices. It will further strengthen and widen such endeavours by giving much more negotiating power to the community against environmental contamination/hazards or against activities that are not in line with sustainable development and social welfare. As the World Wide Web has influenced us to achieve information pervasiveness in our day to day life, the sensor web and associated networks have the potential to help us achieve socio-ecological system sustainability.
The authors are researchers working in the field of environmental science, sustainable development, and IT and ITES.
Dr. K.A. Nishadh is a freelancer who works on IT enabled Environmental researches, currently based in Coimbatore.
Dr. P.A. Azeez, is the former director, Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON),Coimbatore – 641108.
Dr. P.P. Nikhil Raj is associated with the Center for Sustainable Future, Amrita School of Engineering, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Coimbatore, 641112.