By combining an Android app and a data capture platform, Australian researchers are using the sensor capabilities of mobile phones to build a highly practical data feedback network.

Transforming Mobile Phones into Sensor Networks

What better tool than the mobile phone to really launch the ‘Internet of Things’? The device is already equipped with a wide range of sensors – GPS, accelerometer, compass, light sensor, etc – and it is also by definition connected to a network. Moreover, even the least sophisticated smartphone incorporates a processor which would make the computer of just a decade ago green with envy. But how can the data gathered by these seven billion or so phones in circulation be used to good effect? This is the question that a group of researchers at the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University in Canberra, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation CSIRO ICT Centre, based in Victoria, have been exploring.

Recovering the raw data

For the purposes of their research they used a Samsung Galaxy S phone working on the Android system. These devices already incorporate a number of sensors. “The challenge we face is to access the sensors and recover the raw data which they are capturing,” say the researchers in their paper. To do this, they use the Global Sensor Network (GSN), a platform which provides a scalable infrastructure for integrating heterogeneous sensor network technologies. By adding some lines of code in Java script, it becomes feasible to convert any kind of data into a language that GSN comprehends. This means that the platform has to be partially reprogrammed for each new sensor that they wish to integrate.

Install app, select the sensors required for the service

Given that the objective is to develop practical applications – for example for a farmer who wishes to aggregate data from phones set up near his fields in order to obtain information on how his crops are doing* – the researchers looked for a means of avoiding having to integrate GSN, which is very heavy, into each relay telephone. However, an app must still be installed on each phone that might be called into service. Each mobile phone user can then choose the sensors which he wants to designate for use by the data service. The phone and the GSN platform are then connected to the GSN’s IP address. Data can be communicated between the two via either Wifi or 3G. This kind of system therefore enables users to take advantage of an already existing network of sensors – i.e. the mobile phones. In a previous article L’Atelier reported how this same group of researchers were looking at how very diverse types of data could be used to obtain answers to very practical questions related mainly to the agricultural and resource-processing industries.

*The researchers have already been working on this service, as seen in a previous study)