Sunday, August 17th, 2008

USN Means “Ubiquitous Sensor Networks”, but What Does That Mean?

Every fall there is an international conference in Seoul called RFID/USN Korea. RFID is a well-known acronym for Radio Frequencey Identification, but USN is not used in Western countries. Ok, you read the title, so you already know it means Ubiquitous Sensor Networks. Ubiquitous means “found everywhere”, doesn’t it? A sensor network found everywhere? The very idea comes with a creepy feeling of someone watching you wherever you go. Fortunately there is a better interpretation.

Westerners know ubiquitous as an English word. A dictionary defines its meaning as “found, or seeming to be found everywhere”. The key to understanding the “u-word” is to realize it’s not English, but a re-translation of a Korean loan word.

Koreans imported the concept of “ubiquitous computing” to the extent that ubiquitous became a loan word in the Korean language. Imported is not the right word, they also transformed it. In Western countries ubiquitous computing is seldom mentioned. It sounds like a half-forgotten old dream of what computers would be like.

Not so in Korea and Japan. These countries adopted the idea of ubiquitous computing and added lots of vision, energy and enthusiasm. The result is that ubiquitous is now a loan word in the Korean language meaning cool and connected. Same thing in Japanese. For instance, a “U-Home” is not a home found everywhere, but a cool and connected home. Plenty of good vibrations.

So at last we are ready to translate “ubiquitous sensor networks”. It means “cool and connected sensor networks”. The Western term for this is “Wireless Sensor Networks”, or WSN. The translation is appropriate, but I’m afraid some of the coolness, hotness and good vibrations of the original term is lost.

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