BERKELEY, CA. -- The first multicast video and audio link to the South Poleofficially opened for business on April 1, between the Department of Energy'sLawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and scientists at the U.S. Amundsen-ScottSouth Pole Station. The Internet's Multicast Backbone technology -- MBone forshort -- allowed the link, a method far less expensive than any other forexchanging live sound and pictures between remote locations.
In addition to scientists, school kids can get into the act. Real-timeinteraction via MBone between students in the United States and researchers atthe South Pole will be featured as part of "Live From the Poles," an hour-longtelevision special produced by the National Aeronautics and SpaceAdministration's Passport to Knowledge project, distributed by almost 300 publictelevision stations across the nation and by NASA-TV at 1:00 p.m. EDT onTuesday, April 28, 1998 (check local listings).
Instead of sending massive amounts of data to individual routers, MBoneroutes real-time communications over the net by distributing and replicating themulticast data stream only as needed, thus making efficient distribution of datapackets without congesting any single router. The MBone videoconferencing toolswere developed by Van Jacobson of Berkeley Lab's Information and ComputingScience Division (ICSD); the system's other principal creators were SteveDeering, then of Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center, and Steve Casner ofthe University of Southern California.
On April 1, several researchers at Berkeley Lab gathered around computerscreens to exchange greetings with their colleagues wintering over at the Pole."We have a long list of new and interesting things to ask you to do," saidBuford Price of the Antarctice Muon and Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA),kicking off the first of the weekly planning sessions scheduled to manage theproject's experiments, which use instrument probes thousands of meters deep inboreholes in the polar ice.
Hardware for the South Pole link, including miniature cameras, soundpick-up gear and circuit boards, was delivered to the Amundsen-Scott Station byAMANDA's Douglas Lowder earlier this year. Deb Agarwal of ICSD worked with MariaC. Perillo Isaac to put the link into operation.
Agarwal has earlier helped configure and install MBone connections forsuch DOE Collaboratory projects as the remote control of Beamline 7.0 atBerkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source, a national user facility. Isaac, of theLab's Nuclear Sciences Division, is interested in the educational potential ofthe new medium and has been working to help set up MBone links in her sparetime.
In the MBone, Isaac sees "a great resource for kids who want real-timeaccess to remote scientific locations." She hopes that eventually schoolseverywhere will be able to interact -- as some have been privileged to doalready -- with astronomers at mountaintop observatories, biologists in therainforest, geologists on the slopes of live volcanoes, oceanographers under thesea, and astronauts aboard the space station.
Carl Pennypacker, an astrophysicist who is active in the Hands-OnUniverse educational project, calls Agarwal and Isaac "the first two women tothe Pole -- via MBone computer connection."
Pennypacker says that, although MBone is still somewhat experimental, hehopes the South Pole link will be "a prototype for the schools." Today'sonscreen images are small and are usually transmitted at a slow rate, resemblinga slide show more than a movie, and as yet few schools are equipped to receivethe multicasts, although Pennypacker is confident the situation will change.
Nevertheless, MBone connections are unmistakably live. Among MariaIsaac's first words to the Pole were a complaint about California's ElNino-induced weather: "Too much rain." To which the comment from the South Polewas, "We don't have that problem here."
With the South Pole connection as a "proof of concept," in Pennypacker'sphrase, he hopes the incentive for schools to acquire the new technology willmake live science on the MBone only a matter of time.
"We were delighted to cooperate with the MBone team," says Passport toKnowledge project director Geoff Haines-Stiles, who is setting up the April 28connection for schools, "to show that new technologies can literally takestudents to the end of the world . . . or anywhere else their scientificcuriosity might lead."
To learn more about Live-to-Antarctica connections over the web, go tohttp://quest.arc.nasa.gov/antarctica2/index.html orhttp://passport.ivv.nasa.gov. For detailed information about MBone, go tohttp://www.mbone.com.
The Berkeley Lab (http://www.lbl.gov) is a U.S. Department of Energynational laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassifiedscientific research and is managed by the University of California.
The above story is based on materials provided by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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