Software is currently being developed at Ohio State University that will one day help scientists operate big-budget research instruments, such as high-powered microscopes and telescopes, over the Internet. The need for such capability, which is being driven by the high cost of doing research, is growing rapidly. By using the Internet, it would be possible for research partners located some distance apart to run their own experiments on shared instruments without leaving home, thereby reducing expenses.
The only problem with that plan, according to experts, is the same problem every Web surfer encounters sooner or later – traffic congestion. Congestion on the Internet can make remote operation of expensive instrumentation slow, frustrating, and in some cases, dangerous. At worst, it could possibly cause moving parts of an instrument to collide with each other, necessitating costly repairs.
The software being developed to alleviate this problem is called RICE, which is short for Remote Instrumentation Collaboration Environment. According to its developers, RICE will look very familiar to anyone who has used Internet videoconferencing software or an Internet chat program. There’s a window that lists the names of researchers who are logged in and another window for text messaging. A third window shows a video feed of the object being studied, along with buttons to control the instrument. Despite the fact that RICE’s video feed requires 10-30 megabytes per second of bandwidth, it had no negative effect on the rest of the network. The software will eventually be made public.