We live in the information age. You don’t need to go to the library for information. You can pull out your smartphone from your pocket and ask Siri or Google Now or Cortana, and it will read out the latest information for anything you ask. We have resources like Wikipedia for knowledge, Wolfram Alpha for mathematical information and countless news sites and blogs indexed by Google. All of this information is at our fingertips. But we are about to get a lot more information about a lot of new things. We have reached an era of powerful micro-computers that are cheap and affordable. They have a plethora of on-board sensors that can produce data. This data will give us an insight into a lot of topics that we did not know about. It will open up our understanding of the environment we live in, the factors affecting it, and we will learn even more after studying co-relations between the data we will soon have.
We have been able to make tiny micro-sensors that are smaller than a nickel (a small coin), that can record data for several months without a charge and transmit that data back to us. These micro-sensors are getting more affordable everyday. This means that soon we will have these tiny sensors attached to hundreds of birds that fly around. This will give us data about the weather, the level of carbon-dioxide, carbon-monoxide and countless other gasses in our atmosphere. We will be able to use the data over long time periods and co-relate the changes in weather with different levels of gasses in the air. It will help us learn the effects of our activities on the planet over time. It could even unravel different ways in which we can prevent climate change or tweak our behavior in minor ways to have a big effect on the environment.
Besides birds, these tiny sensors can be attached to almost anything. They can be attached to cars to monitor emissions over the course of a day. Along with location information, it can give information of traffic congestions in certain areas, the emission levels, and suggest ways to act on that information. They can even be put on roofs of houses in communities to collectively understand effects of housing communities on the environment. We could have information from different sensors encompassing the entire globe available to everyone, just like we do with the web and Google. This data would help us learn about cause-and-effect of various things that can provide solutions and understandings of problems that we might not even be aware of today.
In the future, you might be able to pull out your smartphone, put a pin on the map and see different things like air quality, carbon-dioxide in air, the noise level, and much more, all in real-time. Researchers could use this data over-time and come up with different solutions for a more sustainable future. Hopefully, it wont be long until we get these micro-sensors accessible to everyone that wishes to use them and provide data back to a central repository.