Régine Debatty blogs on we-make-money-not-art.com, contributes to several European design and art magazines and lectures internationally about the way artists, hackers and interaction designers (mis)use technology.
Council Interview with Alicia Asín Pérez
Alicia Asín Pérez is Gerente / CEO of Libelium
Council: From proximity marketing to agriculture, from home security to ad hocnetworks for earthquakes. Is it not complex to cover so many different content domains? Do you feel you need specialized knowledge to operate in certain domains?
Alicia Asín Pérez: All those applications seem different, but we always approach them from the point of view of monitoring a parameter in order to make better decissions. Waspmote is a platform for system integrators which means that we are in the "hardware" and "api" side, our customers add the necessary value of topic expertise.
Council: Did you set up the Cooking Hacks website to draw in more playful scenarios?
Alicia Asín Pérez: Cooking Hacks is the result of trying to cover different segments of customers, from hobbyists to big corporations. We address the problem of monitoring wirelessly to improve processes, no matter if it is an electronic enthusiast or a company, but they have different needs and so we offer different products. There is also an educational part in Cooking Hacks, as electronic lovers we always want to extend everywhere the interest in "hacking" and thought it would be funny and easy to explain electronic things as if we were talking about recipes (that is the "cooking" part ;-) )
Council: Where do you see growth coming from in the coming years? From focusing on particular applications, from the growth of the field as a whole or from new connections that will be made because of the sensors being in places where they were not before, thus bringing new data and new connections?
Alicia Asín Pérez: I think that the major growth will come from the services associated to the new amount of data available. There are a lot of services that doesn't exist today and will become essential within 5 years. Just imagine a city that tells you how to avoid traffic jams, a fridge that alerts you about expiring food inside or a garden that irrigates itself according to environmental parameters... Everything will be possible taking things into the Internet, the Internet of Things.
Council: In the Smart City project in Salamanca to monitor Air Quality and Urban Traffic you participate with Waspmote. As one of RESCATAME members say, "Pollution and traffic control system developed within RESCATAME project has 6 parts: monitoring, modeling, statistical analyze, dissemination, deployment and evaluation". One of RESCATAME goals is "creating a data platform to inform, understand, assess and evaluate the impact of the actions applied to improve the accessibility, approach congestion problems, improve air quality and start a Traffic Information System" Where is the enduser, the citizen is this loop? After all it is very difficult to deal with pollution on a local level. What is the need for all this data if endusers can not act on it?
Alicia Asín Pérez: Most - if not all - Smart City projects are in a pilot phase to show end users (cities) the benefits they can get. It is absolutely necessary to make enough pilot projects to proof its effectiveness and discover the challenges that implies in terms of deployment, use, etc. And I do think that you can get results working in a local level. It may be easier setting a CO2 reduction goal for a city of 500,000 inhabitants rather than a whole country, where you have to conciliate local, regional and central governments.
Council: How open do you envisage your Sensorial city? : "We present the new concept of a Sensorial City where a network of Waspmote sensors monitors atmospheric contamination levels and gathers climate-related data. This informs us not only of contamination levels but also of their patterns over time (e.g. times of day when traffic is at its peak and CO2 and NO2 emissions increase) to take relevant measures and guarantee a sustainable development." Is it possible that this data becomes the basis fo crowdsourced applications?
Alicia Asín Pérez: Definitely. The key point in the Sensorial City is that all the data generated must be transparent and available to the citizens. If the city shows pollution levels, decides to apply a congestion toll for accessing downtown and shows the evolution of those levels, then citizens will see the effectiveness of the decision. In the end, citizens will have real time results of the decisions of politicians. Ideally, this will put on them more pressure to make better decisions.
Council: In 2007 you co-wrote A Proposal to Introduce Power and Energy Notions in Computer Architecture Laboratories where you state: "Power has emerged as a major concern in the microprocessor industry. From embedded to high-performance processors, all designs employ several power optimizations at the circuit and the architectural levels and you especially stress the importance of this focus in engineering education: "Students could understand the impact that power can have on a design and basic concepts relating to power and energy."
This explains the strong focus for Waspmote on energy: it is a "low consumption sensor device for the creation of wireless sensor networks that integrates more than 50 different sensors." In the case of the Manet ad hoc network that can be set up after disasters the "routers can even be powered through car lighters if there is no access to the power grid."
Are you engaged in any educational programs at the moment? Do you see a role for Libelium to push notions of energy neutrality and energy harvesting into Engineering and Industrial Design education?
Alicia Asín Pérez: Low power consumption has been -and will be- a major concern in the Waspmote design. Not only because of a "sustainability awareness" but to make it possible the deployment of the networks. If you have to depend on energy sources, then it will not be possible to deploy millions of sensors in the following years. Can you imagine the installation of thousands of wired motes in a city? I don't. While we are not focus in teaching, we enable and encourage research institutions to find more energy efficient algorithms; since Waspmote is an Open Source mote, it is possible for them to optimize it and research.
Council: In your article, Understanding Open Hardware (Free Software Magazine, English, 2008) you say that it would be difficult to explain how Open Hardware was born, and that the Open Hardware movement is still very much about concepts and manifestos. Would you say that it is becoming more focused now and that we can expect Open Hardware Principles and Licenses that could bridge the world of industrial production with that of endusers?
Alicia Asín Pérez: To be honest, I am not concerned about licences, I am not a lawyer but when it comes to industrial property, it is very difficult to create a license against a patent, although those interested in the topic can read the licence created by the CERN. I am more practical, what I expect from the Open Hardware Principles is not licences, but affordability in hardware to everyone. Try to design circuits with inexpensive and easy to find components that can be used by anyone. It is not that about making possible others to build at home a circuit (well, they can try but will possibly not have the factory quality) but to make the circuit affordable. Not to mention the amazing things that can be done when you work in Community, like the Open Hardware Geiger Counter Cooking Hacks designed for Fukushima.