Dr. Thomas Freud Wiener is an aerospace engineer with over 40 years of increasing responsibility in conducting and directing high technology research and development efforts. Now the principal of the Forté Consultancy, he was formerly a program manager of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, serving there for a total of ten years. He served in the U.S. Navy for over 22 years, qualified in Destroyers and in Submarines. He commanded the nuclear attack submarine USS JACK. His special technical proficiencies span the fields of missile technology, inertial guidance and automatic control, imaging and non-imaging sensors, and C3I. He has acquired substantial expertise in training and education in the Navy and in civilian life.
He understands the orderly deployment of responsibilities that keeps complex engineered systems moving forward. And with years of strategic management experience at DARPA in his professional CV, he also understands how to shape complex human organizations with a light touch so they function efficiently and harmoniously to achieve greater goals. As an IEEE Senior Life Member, he brings this experience to work in his leadership of the IEEE Committee on Earth Observations (ICEO), having begun a two-year term as chair in January 2010.
In his interview, he explains how IEEE became a Participating Organization in the Group on Earth Organization, and expands on what that now means for the world’s largest professional organization.
Earthzine: Tell us how and why the ICEO came to represent IEEE in the Group on Earth Observations?
Dr. Wiener: IEEE’s involvement with the Group on Earth Observations began following the first ad hoc meeting of the group on Earth observations in Washington, DC in July of 2003. Dr. Jay Pearlman, then an employee of the Boeing Co., realized the impact of a global framework to improve societal planning and decisions based on a better understanding of our environment. A discussion with GEO leadership showed that there was interest in participation by professional organizations such as the IEEE. He consulted with Charles Luther, then president of the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society, and Paul Gartz, then president of IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society about how to involve IEEE in this exciting new opportunity.
After discussions with Dr. Albin Gasiewski, president elect of GRS-S, he convened a meeting that included me as president of the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society. As a result of that meeting, I proposed to the IEEE Technical Activities Board that a small group of us investigate whether IEEE involvement in GEO activities was appropriate and if so, how to take advantage of the opportunities presented. And thus the ad hoc IEEE Committee on Earth Observation was born.
At the next Earth observation Summit in Tokyo in 2004, Dr. Gasiewski represented the IEEE. Because the primary purpose of GEO is to support policymakers in their decisions, he was asked, “What’s an engineer like you doing in a policy meeting?” His classic response, “We thought that someday you might like to build this,” provides the basis for IEEE involvement.
During 2004 and 2005 the vision for GEO and its intent to develop the Global Earth Observation System of Systems became clearer. IEEE continued its ad hoc participation, making valuable contributions to GEO and to the drafts of the 10-year development plan for GEOSS.
The 2005 GEO Ministerial Summit occurred in Brussels. The IEEE delegation was led by Dr. Michael Lightner, then the IEEE President-Elect and by Dr. Jay Pearlman, then chair of the IEEE Committee on Earth Observation. At that meeting the participants established the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) to take those steps necessary to implement GEOSS and endorsed the 10-Year Implementation Plan for establishing a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). The IEEE became one of the original Participating Organizations in GEO.
Earthzine: What is ICEO’s function as a Participating Organization?
Dr.Wiener: First let me say that the Participating Organization is IEEE. ICEO is merely the organizational unit within the IEEE that is the interface with GEO.
GEO is a voluntary association composed of the 82 Member States, the European Commission, and the 58 Participating Organizations. Each one of these contributes to GEO and to the development of GEOSS as its expertise and resources permit. The IEEE’s primary resource is the expertise of its volunteers. The span of this expertise is extraordinarily broad, beginning with electrical engineering and computer science and extending to physics, chemistry, and medicine, to name a few.
The IEEE is involved in two sorts of activities. The first is participation in and leading GEOSS development tasks. Many of the IEEE tasks involve the development of the GEOSS Information System (Common Interface). This involves accessing data and metadata from many disparate data sources and finding ways to make them interoperable. Interoperability and access to information is a GEO priority.
The IEEE is also engaged in GEO committee work. The development of GEOSS is guided by four committees that cut across the nine Societal Benefit Areas. These are the Architecture and Data Committee, the User Interface Committee, the Science and Technology Committee, and the Capacity Building Committee. IEEE is Co-chair of the first two committees.
Earthzine: Can you give us some examples of current ICEO activities?
Dr. Wiener: Let me begin with Earthzine (earthzine.org) where you are reading this. It is a webzine produced for GEO by IEEE as a service to society! Early on, we knew that GEO’s success would be critically dependent on communicating its mission, vision and benefits to the broad constituencies within its membership as well to those potential constituencies in unaffiliated countries and organizations. Dr. Paul Racette, an IEEE member, took the lead on that task in 2007 and has built Earthzine from nothing to an online publication on a very crowded Internet that is already read by an average of 4,500 individuals monthly in over 130 countries. Paul and his editorial staff are using this medium to inform the world about societal issues and to encourage thoughtful discussion and effective action by individuals, organizations, and nations.
As part of the GEOSS Common Infrastructure task, the IEEE has established the Standards and Interoperability Forum as a process to facilitate the common ground that will allow data sets to be interoperable with others. To support those engaged in observations and in developing data bases, a Best Practices Wiki as a resource for providers of data has been established by the IEEE. We are also leading tasks dealing with ocean observations and health reporting systems.
In support of GEOSS development, IEEE conducts user oriented workshops for GEOSS Outreach and Feedback. These workshops, frequently held in conjunction with major IEEE conferences, demonstrate the GEOSS Common Infrastructure to users in all societal benefit areas. These global and regional workshops provide avenues for user inputs into the GEOSS requirements and feedback on the operational aspects of GEOSS.
In addition, these workshops expose regional and local stakeholders to best practices in capacity building and to the benefits of the GEONETCast data dissemination system – in combination with open source web-based applications and service deliveries, for the various societal benefit areas, and GEOSS observation networks. To date IEEE has conducted over thirty workshops.
An exciting feature of the IEEE activities in GEO is the broad participation of the various parts of the Institute. Several Societies are taking leadership roles in some GEOSS Development Tasks. The Communications Society is pursuing several avenues toward the realization of the ubiquitous Internet, including working with South Africa to develop a rural communications network. The Oceanic Engineering Society has taken the role as the IEEE Co-Lead of the Ocean Observing Task. The Computer Society is working with us as we develop a computer game (Save Earth) for young people that will let them explore the effects of various activities on the Earth System as shown by Earth Observations. The South Africa Section is taking an active part in the IEEE’s Advisor to Nations activities there. We receive support from the France Section in our European Commission activities. The Educational Activities Board is participating in the development of the Space Technology Master’s Degree Program development in South Africa.
IEEE is pursuing a project called Water for the World. We have produced an “Actionable Vision” that reviews the availability of fresh water and suggests easily achievable steps that will improve that availability. We are now initiating pilot projects that will be persistent, sustainable, repeatable, scalable, reusable, and fundable.
Earthzine: Could you use more Water for the World volunteers?
Dr. Wiener: You bet! There are opportunities to do good for the world using whatever skills and knowledge individual volunteers are able to offer. We can use people with narrow technical specialties; we can use program managers who take a broader view of problems and projects; we can use people whose offering is only an hour or two a week on a very focused task.
Earthzine: Are there volunteer projects that are ideal for desk jockeys?
Dr. Wiener: Yes, indeed! We have need for planners, web jockeys, writers, financial managers, educators, and analysts. If you have an itch to make the world a better place, we can find a fulfilling opportunity for you.
Earthzine: What challenges do these initiatives face?
Dr. Wiener: The primary challenge for all our initiatives is finding the resources to make them happen. First, we need dedicated volunteers who take ownership of the various tasks. This involves defining them, coordinating activities with colleagues, collaborators, and beneficiaries around the world, and gathering others to participate in the challenge. It also involves finding the money needed. The more people and the more money we can find, the more good work IEEE can do for the world.
Earthzine: What is the ICEO vision going forward?
Dr.Wiener: The IEEE-GEO collaboration is a new type of activity for the IEEE. Many of us, volunteers and staff, are working to find effective ways for IEEE to bring its vision, knowledge, and energy to improving the world. IEEE is using its position as a Participating Organization of GEO to bring its dynamism to strengthen the fabric of the GEO integrating infrastructure, and its technical knowledge to support the development of GEOSS. When we reach the end of the GEOSS 10-Year Development Plan in 2015, the basic aim of GEO will be attained. I expect that GEO will continue to support sustainable development in the world, and I expect the IEEE will continue to make important contributions to the nine GEO Societal Benefit Areas.
Earthzine: Thank you, Dr. Wiener. We’ll anticipate the publication of articles on Water for The World and other ICEO projects.