I had the good fortune to attend the entertaining session, “Wireless Science: Field Studies and Remote Sensor Networks” given by Col. Dave Hughes at SXSW Interactive on Sunday.
Much of Hughes’ work was done as part of an NSF project to explore the potentials of using wireless technologies for biological data gathering from remote and difficult locations. For example, rather than boating several miles down a river in remote Alaska to retrieve data from a sensor (and then only when the weather cooperates), data can be retrieved from the sensor via wireless. There are some pretty interesting challenges in getting above the tree canopy or collecting enough solar energy in polar climates. You can read more about the project at Biological Science by Wireless Project pages.
Hughes also talked about his part in the installation of a wireless “cyber cafe” at Base Camp on Mt. Everest (including a hilarious story of his insistence on riding a Yak while there). The Everest project is part of the vision of Tsering Gyaltsen Sherpa, who is trying to restore telecom to the area after Maoists destroyed a repeater tower in June 2001. Reliable telecommunications is vital to the local economy and perhaps even to preserving the Sherpa culture. Hughes gave an impressive demonstration of voice-over-ip by calling Namche on Everest live at the session, which worked very well despite the fact that a regular traceroute to the same location showed an extreme amount of latency. For more on this fascinating project, see Linking Everest.
Hughes, whose energy and enthusiasm was apparent throughout his session, ended his talk by saying, “So that’s what I’m doing at 75.”