Last week, I wrote about using the temperature sensors installed in cars in a cooperative way to monitor weather conditions in over a large area. It strikes me as I've thought about it over the week end, that there are sensors everywhere and society would be better off if they were widely available. Let me give some examples.
One obvious example is the huge number of sensors that are installed on highways all over the country. These range from traffic cameras on freeways to strain gages on bridges. There are traffic counters installed at most stoplights, many of them remotely accessible. Freeways in major metropolitan areas also have flow sensors in the freeway.
Other examples include seismographs, federal weather monitoring installations, air quality monitoring stations, and the like. Add to that the tons of data that could be made available in real time if organizations wanted to. For example, what's the water flow rate at various points around Salt Lake City right now?
So, what would we do with all this data? I've got no idea. I do know, however, that when you make interesting data available in a way that people can use it, they come up with cool ideas that benefit us all. It would be relatively inexpensive to put a web services front end on a lot of the real time data that gets collected all over the country and let people have access to it. You might want a harder ROI, but I'm not convinced one is needed. Our government is based on the idea of open access to public information. No one did an ROI on that. We're paying to collect the data, let's make it available to people.