Walking around Google I/O, one begins to notice many of these dispersed all around:
Reading the attached sign removes some of the mystery; it's a sensor placed there by Google to record the various conditions of the environment, including temperature, humidity, pressure, light, air quality, motion, and noise levels. Five hundred of these things scattered throughout Moscone are feeding over 4,000 data streams back to Google.
The idea for tracking and monitoring in real time the conference conditions came about after last year's Google I/O, where the Google Cloud Platform Developer Relations team wondered about where the busiest and loudest locations were. They also wondered where the best place would be to take a nap.
"We think about data problems all the time, and this looked like an interesting big data challenge that we could try to solve. So this year, we decided to try to answer our questions with a project that's a bit different, kind of futuristic, and maybe a little crazy," wrote Michael Manoochehri, Developer Programs Engineer, in the a Google blog. "Since we love open source hardware hacking as much as we love to share open source code, we decided to team up with the O'Reilly Data Sensing Lab to deploy hundreds of Arduino-based environmental sensors at Google I/O 2013."
Manoochehri continued, "In addition, our motes will be able to detect fluctuations in noise level, and some will be attached to footstep counters, to understand collective movement around the conference floor. Of course, since a key goal of Google I/O is to promote innovation in the open, the project's Cloud Platform code, the Arduino hardware designs, and even the data collected, will be open source and available online after the conference."
Even without 500 sensors, my singular person moving throughout the conference center could detect dramatic changes in noise, traffic, temperature – and yes – air quality too. The session rooms were dramatically warmer than the main hallways. The crowds were the worst when between sessions. Don't even try to get into a session on Google Glass; just watch the live video on YouTube. And only go into the men's washroom when you really, really have to go.
Google, being the information-obsessed company it is, sees this sort of real-time tracking as applicable in many other instances, such as city planning and consumer products. A retailer could put such data points to use in managing the insane foot traffic of holiday season. Perhaps shopping malls could make parking a less frustrating experience.
For a very in-depth look at Google's data sensing and collection, check out this session from Google I/O: