The TECH column in the April 12 issue of Fortune magazine (unfortunately I cannot give you a link to the article because the folks at CNN/Fortune do not think providing this sort of content in other than the print format I get to my door makes sense) had an article about how companies not normally associated with sensors are actively working to develop micro electromechanical systems to detect geophysical phenomenon. The companies in question are HP, IBM and Cisco.
HP is leading the charge here with an accelerometer 1,000 times more sensitive than those used in the Wii or iPhone that can detect motion and vibrations as subtle as a heartbeat. Using nanomaterials and technology already developed such as the bionic nose it will be possible to create chemical and biological sensors that are 100 million times more sensitive than current models. No more security line ups maybe?
Once the sensors have been deployed, the next step is making sense of 20 petabytes of data that a network of one million sensors running 24 hours a day would create in just six months. We thought it was tough making sense of the additional diagnostic data from field level networks? Good thing that there are rapid advancements being made in data mining and pattern recognition at the same time as nanotechnology moves forward.
If such a network were to be in place it is likely that we could have predicted all the natural catastrophe’s of late, earthquakes in Peru and China, mudslides, and volcanic eruptions in Iceland. Imagine the human suffering that could be avoided. That in itself justifies the effort in my mind.
More information on CeNSE (Central Nervous System for the Earth) can be found at http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/cense_hp_labs.php and http://www.inhabitat.com/2010/02/18/hp-invents-a-central-nervous-system-for-the-earth/ but this is pretty cool stuff and I think automation professionals like us can probably think of lots of much cooler ideas than in these to use this technology.