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Harvard To Field Citywide Wireless Sensors Network

Harvard University is collaborating with the city of Cambridge, MA and networking firm BBN Technologies to install 100 wireless sensors on streetlights in Cambridge to help research environmental changes, ranging from air pollution to potential terrorist activity.

The four-year open-source project, called CitySense, is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The network is being designed to be accessible eventually to researchers worldwide for everything from measuring air pollution to gathering meteorological data to monitoring traffic conditions, noise pollution, and dangerous particulates in the air.

"Wireless sensor networks have the potential to revolutionize the real-time monitoring of the environment, civil structures, roadways, and animal habitats," said Matt Welsh, an assistant professor of computer science in Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The team has placed five sensors inside labs at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in order to conduct research, the Harvard Crimson reported. Only two of the nodes now collect weather data, while the rest are relay nodes.

Welsh said that in the project's early stages, the idea responded to a homeland security concern: monitoring levels of toxic waste. Then the researchers decided to pitch the project to the National Science Foundation, where the project was a "natural fit,"  he said.
Long-term proposals for CitySense include adding biosensors for airborne contaminants and microphones to study noise pollution. The sensors could become a springboard to providing citywide wireless Internet access, as well as for collecting data from mobile sensors mounted in buses and cars, according to Welsh.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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