For a group of researchers from São Paulo, the Internet is now more than a means of communication: it has become an object of research. They are beginning to “weave”, if we may put it this way, a high-speed research network, using part of the network of switched-off optical fibers of private or public sector companies, that is, without any commercial use, to develop and to demonstrate technologies and applications in advanced Internet. This optical network will have statewide proportions and will be a kind of laboratory for the implementation of two other innovative projects: one on distance learning and the other for an incubator of digital contents. All these projects will be developed in the ambit of the Information Technology in the Development of the Advanced Internet (Tidia) project, launched by FAPESP in 2001. The Foundation has now begun to analyze the proposals that answered Tidia’s first call, and the results should be made known at the end of October. The demand came as a surprise: in all, 86 projects were presented, with the invitation for the content incubator still open. “We were counting on four or five project groups and we will have more”, says Luis Fernandez Lopez, the coordinator of the project. The two universities from São Carlos, for example, presented a megaproject involving all the researchers from the area, he says.
The three projects that make up Tidia are absolutely original, not only for the object of research, but also for the structure of the program. The first project, in fact, is original even in the name: it was baptized as KyaTera, where Kya means “net” in the Tupi-Guarani language, and Tera, the prefix of terabits, a measure of time used in telecommunications. This project will implement the optical fiber network strictly speaking, interlinking the research laboratories on the advanced Internet. The second is going to develop tools to support electronic learning (e-learning). The third provides for the creation of a Virtual Incubator of Digital Contents, to expand the volume of information in Portuguese currently available on the web.
All the projects have an eminently collaborative nature. KyaTera, for example, is going to bring together research groups specialized in information technology, communications and laboratory control and automation. To be added to them are groups of excellence in all the experimental sciences, so that they can get together to develop projects in optical communications, optical networks, networks to access information superhighways, and software and hardware for controlling instruments. “The project takes the concept of sharing to an unprecedented extent, with the network being used for research and for training human resources”, underscores FAPESP’s scientific director, José Fernando Perez.
KyaTera will also have as strategic partners private and public sector optical fiber companies, willing to offer the use of switched-off fibers – as well as the ducts, posts and rights of way, that is to say, the project’s infrastructure – and to take part in the research. Public or private sector companies with research and development activities may also be able to coparticipate in the project, together with FAPESP. KyaTera will be managed by a steering committee appointed by the Foundation, which, amongst other tasks, will be responsible for recommending strategic alliances outside the state, or even redefine the organization of the project. This will be reviewed by an external committee, made up of specialists from the area, which will select the participating laboratories and assess the annual results.
In this first call, 29 projects were presented, and amongst them the participating laboratories were selected. To start with, three working groups will be set up. The External Network group is going to implement the external structure of the laboratories and the certification tests, among other activities needed for the consolidation of what is known, in the jargon of the specialists, as the Physical (or optical) Layer of the Advanced Internet. The group responsible for the Transport Layer is going to analyze communication protocols for testing and defining standards, taking advantage, to start with, the legacy of the Academic Network at São Paulo (ANSP) and Metropolitan High Speed Network (ReMAV in the Portuguese acronym) in the state of São Paulo. This group is also going to lead research into network engineering. The third group is going to work on the Applications Layer, that is to say, on defining and accompanying instrument control over the Internet. To begin with, it will do a survey of the existingtechnologies and will recommend, for example, instrument control software and the development of new software, amongst other necessary measures. The three groups are going to work in a synergetic fashion, as parts of a single project. At the end of the 6th and 12th month following KyaTera’s implementation, meetings will be held for the results to be presented.
KyaTera will be act as support for the implementation of the Virtual Incubator of Digital Contents, a project that is going to develop innovative cooperative methodologies, in an environment of free software with an open code. Free software, strictly speaking, will be one of the main objects of the research. “This is an environment of automated cooperation”, points out Imre Simon, the coordinator of this project. Unlike the other ones, this project is going to be organized in the light of the demands from the scientific community for academic contents. It is, so to speak, almost an open ended task. “In a paradigmatic way, the incubator expresses the concept of a bazaar”, compares Perez. He is referring to the comparison which two American anthropologists turn to, Eric S. Raymond and Bob Young, in their book The Cathedral and the Bazaar, about the Linux operating system. In the cathedral, the organization seeks absolute perfection. In the bazaar, though, order is imperfect and subject to permanent updating, and errors are a part of the game. “The incubator works with the principle of the bazaar. It is open to collective intelligence”, Perez likens.
The project is inspired on experiments like that of the Source Forge website, sponsored by a private company, for developing free software projects. The site has today 450,000 users from 40,000 projects. “The community that develops free software has taken to this proposal, because the system is standardized”, Simon explains. Another example of this kind of project is the wikipedia.org website, a sort of collectively constructed encyclopedia that, in less than two years, already has over 150,00 headings, more than the Encyclopedia Britannica. Known as a version control system, the system makes it possible to alter, correct and recover contents, with the intervention of various duly authorized users. The Incubator of Contents should work in a similar way. The Incubator is also innovative in the form of funding. The projects that successfully complete six months of incubation will be able to apply to FAPESP for assistance. The first call for applications should take place within one year, when a critical and public assessment of the project is scheduled to be carried out. “In this initial phase, the Foundation is going to work like a catalyst of research initiatives. If a mistake is made, there is no cost. There is no limit to daring”, Perez claims.
The site – incubadora.fapsp.br – is now working on an experimental basis. At the beginning of September, the site was already hosting 23 projects and had 78 registered users. One of these projects wants to huddle specialists and those interested in analyzing the Brazilian Digital TV System. Another project is Arca, which intends to “organize people working on transdisciplinary projects”. A third one is Art for All, which has the objective of offering “the less privileged segments access to the knowledge and the esthetic experimentation of the Visual Arts, using Advanced Information Technology”. The site is going to offer a series of services to facilitate this interaction between users and create an infrastructure for cooperation.
The optical fiber network implemented in the KyaTera project is also going to support the development of research in electronic learning. The idea is to build a common tool, using open software, making distinct research efforts converge, with the objective of specifying, developing and distributing a single set of support tools for learning. Tidia’s coordination is analyzing 34 projects in this modality of research. In this case as well, three working groups will be organized. The first will have the task of defining and making available everything from the tools of work to the documentation and technical collection of the project. The second group is going to standardize the architecture, the language and the objects of learning, amongst other tasks. And the third will be responsible for giving support for the set of tools used in distance learning. In this case too, two meetings for presenting results will be held at the end of the first half-year and first year of work. The expectation is that in the 12th month of activities the groups will conclude the drawing up of a prototype of the Distance Learning environment on an Advanced Internet platform.