Pervasive Computing Techniques Have Energy-Use Cost

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif., 10 April, 2009 – Now that the world finally sees the global warming wolf at the door—along with its cousins, natural resource depletion and an increasingly toxic environment—advanced computing techniques could be invaluable in building a more sustainable environment, but not without their own costs.

As the current issue of IEEE Pervasive Computing magazine details, environmental sustainability will require better monitoring of the physical world, increased management of large-scale human enterprises—in agriculture, transport, and manufacturing, for example—and more targeted information about our individual consumption habits. Guest editors Allison Woodruff and Jennifer Manoff, from UC Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University, report that these needs “are well-aligned with pervasive computing’s vision, which promises to deliver computational intelligence embedded in the physical world, human enterprises, and people’s lives.”

As one example their special issue explores, advanced sensor technologies can be deployed to improve the management of perishable goods such as fruit, fresh produce, and meat. Too often, these goods are produced and shipped only to be thrown away because of improper handling on the way to market. Perishable goods account for a significant percentage of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Pervasive computing’s primary green contribution is its ability to turn dumb technology into smart power-aware technologies,” says Roy Want of Intel Research, who serves as the magazine’s editor-in-chief. “By adding computing in combination with sensing and actuation, we can make systems automatically respond and adapt to their environments.”

With better sensing devices and monitoring techniques deployed in the perishable goods supply chain, food producers could cut down on their spoilage losses and reduce the damage they do to the environment.

Yet, costs arise because these pervasive sensing and monitoring devices also pose threats to ecological sustainability, both in the energy they consume and in the waste they generate. As an example, the issue’s final article, “Understanding the Situated Sustainability of Mobile Phones,” by Elaine Huang and her colleagues, spotlights the damage consumers create by discarding 125 million cellphones into landfills every year. Huang then explores how local communities can reduce that impact through better business models, environment-friendly policies, and changed consumer attitudes.

“Environmental Sustainability,” by Allison Woodruff and Jennifer Manhkoff, and “How Green Is Green,” by Roy Want, are publicly available on the IEEE Pervasive Computing webpage: Individual articles from the issue are available for purchase at 

About the Computer Society

With nearly 85,000 members, the IEEE Computer Society is the world’s leading organization of computing professionals. Founded in 1946, and the largest of the 39 societies of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Computer Society is dedicated to advancing the theory and application of computer and information-processing technology, and is known globally for its computing standards activities.

The Computer Society serves the information and career-development needs of today’s computing researchers and practitioners with technical journals, magazines, conferences, books, conference publications, and online courses. Its Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) program for mid-career professionals and Certified Software Development Associate (CSDA) credential for recent college graduates confirm the skill and knowledge of those working in the field. The CS Digital Library (CSDL) is an excellent research tool, containing more than 250,000 articles from 1,600 conference proceedings and 26 CS periodicals going back to 1988.

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