What science does with sensors everywhere

This is actually the topic of this article (in Nature's last issue about 2020 - Future of Computing): Declan Butle (2006) 2020 computing: Everything, everywhere, Nature, 440, 402-405

In their current, mostly desktop, incarnation, computers used for science usually come into their own quite late in the process of inquiry. In the future, this set up could be reversed. (...) new computers would take the form of networks of sensors with data-processing and transmission facilities built in. Millions or billions of tiny computers — called 'motes', 'nodes' or 'pods' — would be embedded into the fabric of the real world. They would act in concert, sharing the data that each of them gathers so as to process them into meaningful digital representations of the world. Researchers could tap into these 'sensor webs' to ask new questions or test hypotheses. Even when the scientists were busy elsewhere, the webs would go on analysing events autonomously, modifying their behaviour to suit their changing experience of the world. (...) such widely distributed computing power will trigger a paradigm shift as great as that brought about by the development of experimental science itself. (...) But sensor webs currently have major limitations for people doing science in the field, says Deborah Estrin (...) Estrin says that sensor webs alone are often not sufficient for all monitoring needs, and that the cost of sensors prohibits researchers from obtaining the pod densities often needed for detailed field experiments. (...) Sensor webs will frequently be just single layers in a stack of data-collecting systems. These will extract information at different temporal and spatial scales, from satellite remote-sensing data down to in situ measurements.

Managing these stacks will require massive amounts of machine-to-machine communication, so a major challenge is to develop new standards and operating systems that will allow the various networks to understand each other

The article is actually good review of sensor-based scientific projects ranging from glacier surveillance to soil biodiversity.