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Computer Sciences

Experiments on the net

The Internet of the future is object of research studies

Assembly of photos by Eduardo Cesar and Miguel BelayingIn the early eighties, it was difficult to imagine the Internet as it is today: e-mails, countless sites and, more recently, the surfacing and proliferation of blogs. Imagining what the Internet will be like in the next 15 or 20 years is not an easy task. More intense use of optic fibers to interconnect the network at higher transmission speed, via laser, is certainly one of the features that will shape the new network. This aspect and other uses of the net in the future – in the same manner as in the seventies to the end of the eighties, when the net was created within the scope and use of science – are being fostered by researchers working at technological and scientific institutes around the world. The Internet still works as a lab for research, testing of new equipment for optic fibers, movements of robots and for studying objects at a distance or even in new content and teaching forms.

In Brazil, many of these ideas are part of Tidia, the Infotech Program for the Development of Advanced Internet funded by FAPESP. Created four years ago, the program has already brought together nearly 600 researchers – mostly students and professors – from research institutes in the State of São Paulo. The program, for which FAPESP allocates R$ 7.5 million a year, has three main categories. One of them is KyaTera (www.kyatera.fapesp.br), which provides Tidia (www.fapesp.br/tidia) with an optic fiber network and support for a variety of experiments. The other categories include a virtual incubator (www.incubadora.fapesp.br), with 325 portals focusing on a variety of issues, which the content generators can use to generate their pages without having to resort to a web designer and a webmaster to control the actions in the big network.

“Tidia allows researchers to reflect on the Internet of the future. We provide the infrastructure to enable them to develop new technologies,” says Luis Fernandez Lopez, a physicist and professor at the University of São Paulo’s Medical School, who coordinates the program. “It is one of the few programs in the world that uses the web to conduct experimental projects. We at Tidia started doing this in 2003,” says Lopez. “In the United States, some people are already saying that the network is a mess and that one should stop and think about it. In the United States, an initiative in this respect is the funding provided by the National Science Foundation for the Environment for Network Innovations (Geni at the site www.geni.net). This project is a research platform for the exploring of the Internet of the future. The researchers want to find out how people view the network, which are the ideals and the real limits.” Geni was launched as an idea in 2005 and is now going through the final stages of the project, which will include a physical optic fiber network, servers and regional wireless networks, as well as a software system with the objective of serving hundreds of thousand of experiments and creating, according to its creators, the Internet of the 21st century. The projects will be opened to the North American academic community and to companies, especially small ones with the capacity to conduct technological research.

While even more radical innovation is being prepared, there is still a lot to be done with the existing Internet. “We still have to speed up the inclusion processes so that more people are connected to the net,” says Demi Getschko, president and director of the Dot br Information and Coordination Center (www.nic.br), an entity that implements the decisions of the Internet Management Committee in Brazil. In his opinion, the network systems are heading towards a non-perception of the Internet. “We are going to look at the network services, such as sites and e-mails, more and more, and less at the infrastructure or the network itself. This is already happening with telephony, where you no longer have to access the computer to talk via TCP/IP. Tomorrow, it might be the digital TV via IP.”

Basing his opinion on current trends, Getschko also believes that economic templates will change because of the Internet, especially in the cultural segment, and there will be less intermediation. Because of the network’s expansion, many physical means of communication, such as music CDs and film DVDs, will tend to disappear. “The transportation of this information will be mostly through the network. In addition, the way in which this intellectual production is remunerated will also change. At any rate, it will not be easy to remunerate the creators when individuals exchange music or videos by e-mail, because the data packages (the electronic and digital means of sending material through the net) seem to be all the same and there is no way to identify and charge for them.”

The expansion of the network, says Getschko, also includes better use of optic fibers. “I think that the backbone will be entirely made of fibers, which will open up the local access to the user (the fibers will come to everyone’s doorstep) through wireless systems. A wider band width will make it possible to test more complex applications, the way Tidia does; in other words, there is no repetition of something that already exists; instead, we are evolving. The TCP/IP protocol is showing resistance to these experiments, even at incredibly high speeds, as has been shown by the Internet 2”, says Getschko. The Internet 2 is a network comprised of 200 North American universities and research institutes. In 1996, it began to interconnect all of these units with high-speed optic fiber networks. This is not to be confused with the Web 2.0, which encompasses trends and actions in the form of interactivity within the big network, such as YouTube or Wikipedia, which allows web surfers to participate actively in the net.

To support Tidia, the KyaTera network concluded its exclusive optic fiber cable network in August. This network interconnects universities and research institutes in the State of São Paulo. By the end of this year, once all the equipment has been installed, the network is expected to be entirely connected, linking institutions in such cities as São Paulo, São Carlos, Campinas, São José dos Campos, Ribeirão Preto and Santos. In April of this year, an agreement between FAPESP and telephony carrier Telefônica, which owns most of the state’s telephony network, allowed more than 3,300 kilometers of fibers to be incorporated into the KyaTera’s 1,050 optic fiber network for a three-year period. The researchers who are already connected to this network, or who will be connected shortly, will avail themselves of optic fibers connected to their labs at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second (Gb/s), a transmission which is a couple of thousand times faster than the fastest commercial bandwidth interconnection, which travels at a speed of approximately 8 megabits per second (Mb/s).

The optic fibers structure will enable a number of experiments to be conducted, such as the one being planned by the group headed by professor Hugo Fragnito, from the Physics Institute of the State University of Campinas/Unicamp. “We will be able to field test our fiber optic parametric amplifier, Fopa, in a real network. The test will make light travel throughout the optic fiber and undergo oscillations, different temperatures and mechanical vibrations,” says Fragnito. The professor is also the coordinator of KyaTera and of the Optic and Photonics Research Center of Campinas, funded by FAPESP. Fopa is an improvement over the existing amplifiers installed along the optic fibers network, at distances of 20 to 100 kilometers, especially between cities and in international connections, which recover the luminous wave generated throughout the transmission. If the tests are positive, it will be possible to increase data and voice transmission speeds hundreds of times in long-distance networks. Fopa has been in development since 2000 (read more about in Pesquisa FAPESP Nr. 81). At present, the project includes the work of researchers from Stanford University and Cornell University, in the United States.
The new amplifier might avoid a traffic jam on the Internet, which is expected to happen in 2015 or 2016, especially between countries and cities that use existing technology. “We also plan to test other devices for those networks. These devices, smaller than the existing ones, include filters, modules, etc. Given the need for more fibers and more lasers in a single fiber, it will be necessary to reduce the size of the equipment and of electric power consumption.” In Fragnito’s opinion, nobody really knows which applications will be necessary in the network in the next ten years. “What we do know is that we will, very quickly, have to show films with the highest possible resolution. Internet telephony will also become more popular, as will telephony with images.” The tests conducted by Fragnito will involve speeds of up to 320 Gb/s in a set of fibers. Researchers normally use speeds of 1 Gb/s to 10 Gb/s in experiments, as, for example, the WebLabs, which are experiments conducted in real labs and controlled via the Internet. These projects were developed by groups from the KyaTera.

One of the most widely admired experiments is the WebLab which focuses on long-distance observation, via the Internet, of native sting-less bees. A camera installed inside a beehive in a building of the Biosciences Institute (IB) of the University of São Paulo/USP, in São Paulo will allow research groups to study these insects and develop learning material for long-distance courses. “This will be a video in real time that can be seen immediately via the Internet or taped for later viewing or studying,” says professor Antônio Saraiva, from the Agricultural automation Laboratory at USP’s Polytechnic School. The professor is setting up the WebLab together with researchers from the IB, coordinated by professor Vera Lúcia Imperatriz-Fonseca.

The life of bees is followed by an infra-red lamp that does not bother the insects, and by a similar video-taping system. “With the new network, the speed will be much faster and the high definition transmission will avoid delay. These videos will be compared to data from environmental instrumentation systems, such as temperature, humidity, and bee counting,” says Saraiva. Another possibility will be to capture and record the sounds of the beehives, analyze them and correlate the behavior of bees – whether they are on the alert, or looking for food, and so on. “We have studies that relate different sounds with the quality and the distance from the food source, such as the nectar of specific flowers.” With the sound, the bees’ WebLab as it is referred to within Tidia, will become a veritable BBB, or Big Brother Bee.

In addition to observing the behavior of bees, the WebLab will also allow researchers to observe other ecosystems services, via the net. Ecosystem services are natural processes such as photosynthesis and pollination. By means of open-top chambers, used in plant physiology essays, in which the plants remain inside a round, metal structure covered with transparent plastic 1.5 meters high and nearly as wide, scientists will study the behavior of plants in high CO2 concentration conditions, mimicking possible future situations. It is possible to inject carbon gas into the chamber and simulate the effects on plants over many years in a speedier manner. One of the main objectives of this project, coordinated by professor Marcos Buckeridge, from the IB, is to verify the plant’s photosynthesis level, in order to analyze whether it increases or not. This system, called WebLabs of Ecosystems Services, will be available on the Virtual Networking Center of Ecosystem Services (Vinces) (www.ib.usp.br/vinces).

Another WebLab will collect medical images and the respective patients’ medical records from the InCor heart institute and the Clínicas teaching hospital of USP’s Medical School, and from other hospitals interested in this matter. Coordinated by professor Sérgio Furuie, the group is in contact with other USP institutes in São Carlos and Ribeirão Preto, and has already developed algorithms. At present, the group is testing software for the processing of X-Ray images, echocardiograms, ultra sounds, CAT scans and MRIs. “Our objective at the Medical Images WebLab is to create and make available a data base of images from several medical centers. This will allow for broader evaluation of software; in addition, this data base can be used for teaching purposes,” says Furuie. Another initiative in the field of medicine is called Rede Universitária de Telemedicina/ Rute, a university TV network. This project, announced in August, was created by the Rede Nacional de Ensino e Pesquisa/RNP, a nationwide learning and research network maintained by the Ministry of Science and Technology. With the support of the Finep research funding system and of the Brazilian Association of University Hospitals, the Rute will implement a structure on a high-speed network for connections between hospitals, with the objective of holding conferences, medical programs, long-distance surgeries and TV-diagnostics. This structure will use the Ipê network, assembled by the RNP, which connects all of the country’s state capitals. The network’s highest capacity connects the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and Belo Horizonte, with optic fiber connection capacity of 10 Gb/s.

Long-distance imaging is also one of the WebLab focuses, under the coordination of professor Fragnito. “The new applications of the network include video conferences with the highest possible resolution.” The objective is to reach a video transmission capacity that will allow for clearer perception of the communicating party. “We want to reach a point where the presence of a person on the video conference screen will even enable viewers to see a blushing face, enthusiasm or wary eyes. This would facilitate the feeling of presence of people working in scientific or economic activities and in long-distance medical situations,” says Fragnito. He provides a current example based on his own experience. A researcher from Cornell University, who collaborates with the group from Cepof, is in Brazil to do some work together and test a specific part. “If we had a high resolution screen with similar technical structures on both sides, the part could have been sent by mail and we would test it via video conferencing and feel its presence.” In Fragnito’s opinion, the KyaTera is the tip of what the Internet will be like in the future. We are training people, not only engineers and physicists, who will become more familiar with and be less afraid of this kind of technology.”

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