Euro Researchers Get SMART


By Tim Moran

Would you believe there's a European consortium working to bring search to the city? Well, there is, and it's called SMART, for "Search Engine for MultimediA EnviRonment-generated ContenT." OK, so it's not the greatest acronym you've ever seen, but the idea is pretty neat.

The University of Glasgow is taking the lead in this research project, which aims to create "a large number of Internet-connected sensors (including cameras and microphone arrays), which provide opportunities for searching and analyzing large amounts of multimedia data from the physical world, while also integrating them into added-value applications."

By placing these devices on lampposts, traffic lights, and other common city structures, SMART hopes to gather huge amounts of data that can be used to make life better in a modern metropolis. Though, at this stage, it's long on concept and short on details, the consortium explains that SMART will "introduce a holistic open-source, Web-scale multimedia search framework for multimedia data stemming from the physical world."

The data will come from both context and metadata, such as location and state, gleaned from the various sensors. It will leverage "Web 2.0 social networks information in order to facilitate social queries on physical world multimedia." All of this will be hooked into a search framework based on the University of Glasgow's Terrier open-source search engine.

So what does all this result in? "SMART builds upon the existing concept of 'smart cities,' physical spaces which are covered in an array of intelligent sensors which communicate with each other and can be searched for information," said Dr. Iadh Ounis of the University of Glasgow's School of Computing Science, according to a story on BBC.com.

Reports suggest that this search-in-the-city will be ready for live testing in 2014. But what will SMART actually do? What are the "use cases," as the boffins like to say?

A bit of digging led me to a paper by some members of the team, including Dr. Ounis, and it provided some clues. Two of the use cases it refers to are "live news" and "security and surveillance in urban environments."

The former could "enable end-users to create personalized social news portals containing dynamic life information from sensors deployed within a smart city," while the latter will enable "the answering of targeted queries, based on sensors and sensor processing algorithms that fulfill certain criteria" to detect people and/or scenes that might be considered suspicious across certain times and urban locations.

All of this has a distinct social networking connection: "The SMART search engine will seamlessly leverage information and search results from (Web 2.0) social networks in order to facilitate the interception of social networks with sensor networks, toward social applications and searches of environment-generated content."

Still not sure what it's all about? Neither am I. But you have to admit it's pretty interesting ... and more than a little bit scary. I understand that the motives behind it are altruistic: to make cities safer and the quality of life better for the city dwellers.

However, much like the use of drones for non-military surveillance and crime fighting, these life-improving technological innovations come with "big brother" invasiveness. I hope SMART remains true to its roots, but, believe it or not, I'm a bit of a cynic.