Ubiquitous Life in Korea too Early to Tell

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Friday, January 16th, 2009

Many companies and organizations are eagerly looking forward to the ubiquitous future of Korea, and how soon everything will have a chip in it that will allow it to be digitally tracked, its history digitally stored, and its unique appeal digitally erased from existence. The applications of ubiquitous technology are endless by definition - there are a ton of objects on the Earth, and which of them could not be improved by giving them the properties of self-identification and tracking? The only way that this idea could be any better would be to give all objects in the world little spirits with quirky personalities, and call them sprites or fairies.

But perhaps some writers read too much science fiction. Back in reality, researchers and industry professionals are working hard to take the first step towards a ubiquitous future.

The ubiquitous future involves devices, a million billion little devices, that all interoperate, communicate, collaborate, and facilitate pretty much everything. But the only real way to make a million billion little devices is to first design them to be cost efficient.

RFID tags are the first of the million billion little devices coming. While there are RFID tags in production and use right now, there are often complaints that they are too expensive and do not work when in proximity to water or metal. In order to move forward with the ubiquitous idea, cost-effective, environment-proof RFID tags must be developed. And in order to develop the next generation of RFID tags, you need micro-electronic mechanical system (MEMS) sensors. MEMS are basically little tiny mechanical elements, sensors, actuators and electronics all stuck together on a silicon substrate through microfabrication technology. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said on December 23, 2008 that the state-run Korea Institute for Electronic Commerce (KIEC) has completed development of a manufacturing process that will allow up to 9,000 8- inch wafers to be produced by 2010.

This is, unfortunately, the beginning of the beginning for robust RFID chips, which makes it the beginning of the beginning of the beginning for the ubiquitous future. Only 9,000 wafers will be produced by 2010, and only after they are produced will other companies be able to use them to create new RFID chips. After enough robust RFID chips are created, only then can people experiment with the next step in the ubiquitous plan - ubiquitous sensor networks.

Ubiquitous sensor networks involve active sensors placed strategically in an area that can keep track of the little RFID chips that will be on everything sooner or later. Thankfully companies in Korea have a lot more experience with sensor networks due to their similarity with cellular phone networks. For instance, the Korean Meteorological Administration (KMA) has set about creating a sensor network on Jeju Island, a 706-square-mile island located approximately 60 miles off the southwestern tip of Korea and incidentally a popular honeymoon destination. KT Corp. serves as systems integrator, and was in the process of installing approximately 300 wireless sensor nodes throughout the entire island in December, including its coastal and mountainous regions, to transmit sensor data and video onto a network that can be accessed in real time by the KMA, in order to create what it calls the Automatic Weather System (AWS).

So while there is still a lot of talk about ubiquitous sensor networks, ubiquitous devices, ubiquitous healthcare, and ubiquitous trash collection, the reality is most likely not going to show up in 2009. We'll have to wait until the science-fictionally significant year of 2010 to see this next wave of human endeavor.

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