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Intel researchers plot a smarter, personalised cloud

Intel researchers hope to combine sensors and cloud to deliver more accurate weather, air quality information
  • (IDG News Service)
  • 27 April, 2012 02:58

Intel researchers hope the Cloud will provide a new model to deliver accurate information about the quality of air and weather within meters of where a user is standing, which could ultimately help improve the quality of life.

Intel has a project under way to populate neighborhoods with sensors that give a more accurate picture of elements like pollution and weather, said Terrance O'Shea, a senior principal engineer at Intel Research. The plan entails gathering weather and air quality information from the sensors, triangulating a user's exact position, and then delivering accurate information for that location using a personalized cloud service.

The weather information provided today is pretty generic, based on sensors in specific locations such as an airport. Intel has made a weather and pollution sensor chip designed to be easily installed in stores across neighborhoods, and information from a group of sensors could be analyzed to measure the temperature and air quality of a specific location, O'Shea said.

The point of these sensors is to provide a better quality of life, O'Shea said. For example, the pollution mobile toolkit includes carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and ozone sensors that measure air quality to see if an area is safe. Such information is typically helpful for people like asthma patients.

While it may seem tedious to put sensors across stores, bars and pizza parlors in neighborhoods, it's practical and could happen soon, O'Shea said. The cloud provides a powerful delivery model for information, O'Shea said

Stores carrying sensors can make money by delivering advertisements through cloud services. For example, a user requesting weather information may get an advertisement of the closest store.

Such services won't cost users extra on existing data plans, as the cloud providers will get revenue through advertising. But there will need to be consistency across data collection from sensors for accurate analysis of weather and pollution patterns, O'Shea said.

Intel has tried to use sensor chips to deliver accurate information on pollution and weather in the past. One of the projects entailed gathering air quality information through sensor kits on street sweepers, with the goal to ultimately put the chips inside mobile devices for users to instantly measure the quality of air or temperature. But with the emergence of the cloud, Intel's plans to put chips directly inside smartphones and tablets may have taken a backseat.

It's not practical to have pollution or weather sensors in smartphones or ultrabooks as they won't provide accurate measurements, O'Shea said. Smartphones in pockets don't measure temperatures accurately, and laptops for now are good at only measuring internal PC temperature. A smartphone design also may need to be changed so sensors can gather information accurately.

But when practical, Intel's goal is to ultimately include sensors inside devices, O'Shea said. Intel is already planning a radical redesign for future chips through a technology called near-threshold voltage (NTV), in which CPUs can operate at extremely low voltage levels.

Intel's goal is also to make cities smarter, and the company has a number of research projects under way that use sensor kits for energy, traffic light and gas station management. The chips include components that process data at the hardware level, but the researchers are complementing the sensors with algorithms that mine and analyze the data.

Intel hopes to ultimately make more money off these projects. O'Shea said. The data generated by sensors requires more servers to process, which could help Intel sell more chips, O'Shea said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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