Sunday, March 18, 2012

Assignment 2, part 3

Smart Mobs: Roads Scholarship

For my third smart mob text, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I at more at home with the arts and the news and the sociology and political science of it all than I am with science, so I went out looking for some science I didn’t really understand. And I found it.

MobEyes: Smart Mobs For Urban Monitoring With A Vehicular Sensor Network is a paper by Uichin Lee et al., that proposes the installation of recording and diffusion software in automobiles, which, thereby, become mobile nodes in a network of data sharing and harvesting.

The authors, who are from UCLA and the University of Bologna, view such a network as possible only because of the ubiquity of mobile wireless devices such as cellphones, PDAs and wi-fi laptops. “Not only do such devices enrich our daily activities, but also create an environment such that epidemics of cooperation can thrive.” (52)

This talk of cooperation echoes Rheingold’s simple defintion of smart mobs as “people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other.” (xii). The diffusion of mobile devices, says Rheingold, “ will help people coordinate actions with others around the world -- and, perhaps more importantly, with people nearby. Groups of people using these tools will gain new forms of social power, new ways to organize their interactions... . Tomorrow’s fortunes will be made by businesses that find a way to profit from these changes, and yesterday’s fortunes are already being lost by businesses that don’t understand them.” (xii-xiii)

Not surprisingly, the authors trace their inspiration back to Rheingold, who they credit as being the first to name these kinds of cooperated activities as smart mobs, “where people with shared interests/goals can pervasively and seamlessly collaborate using wireless mobile devices.” (52)

As I understand the proposal, MobEyes transmitting and receiving senors would be installed in public and private vehicles that would broadcast packets of information comprised of sensed data, including atmospheric pollution, road conditions, congestion, and licence plate information speed and location, to be analyzed by a central police agency as part of a larger vehicular sensor network that also includes existing surveillance cameras.

(Interestingly, the nouns and pronouns used to describe interaction between data-transmitting vehicles echo those of the human world. “Encounters,” the authors write [emphasis added], “occur when two nodes exhange summaries, that is, when they are within their radio ranges and have a new summary packet to advertise.” (54)

We are asked to imagine MobEyes at work after a terrorist attack in which the criminals have released in an urban environment poisonous chemicals, and then fled in a vehicle. We are asked to assume that other vehicles are equipped with cameras and chemical sensors. “They continuously generate a huge amount of sensed data store and process them locally, and produce short summaries periodically or in an event-driven way, for example, when chemical
readings overcome specified thresholds” (53).

The reader is left to imagine other uses of the MobEyes protocol, and we can easily submit that vehicles equipped with speed sensors could record speeding vehicles more extensively than existing radar traps and photo-radar locations would qualify as an additional use.

And that returns us to the cautionary note that Rheingold hits in all of his smart rob writings. Indeed, something significant is happening with the rapid adoption of multimedia communication. The positives are easy to see. In the case of MobEyes being adopted, police would have more information in real time, and drivers may be persuaded, when a neighbouring vehicle also doubles as a police vehicle, to regulate their speed. Here, Rheingold is a good guide:

Perhaps the most important question about the future of augmenting collective action through the use of the Internet and mobile communication is the degree to which trustworthy and accurate information can be distinguished and screened from misleading, false, missourced information. (237)

To me, this returns the smart mob discussion to ancient questions of what you can trust.


Lee, U., Zhou, B., Gerla, M., Magistretti, E., Bellavista, P., & Corradi, A. (October 2006). MobEyes: Smart mobs for a urban monitoring with a vehicular sensor network.” IEEE Wireless Communications, 52-57.
Rheingold, H. (2008). Mobile media and political collective action. In J. E. Katz (Ed.), Handbook of mobile communication studies (pp. 225-237). Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Rheingold, H. (2003). Smart mobs: The next social revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

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