Strategies for Maximizing Sensor Interoperability

Even though no single organization is anointed as the coordinator for marine sensor interoperability, there are many straightforward strategies that can be pursued to maximize the interoperability of these sensors. All the players in the life cycle of a sensor can contribute small pieces to increasing sensor interoperabilty, both for their own project and for the entire community.

Overarching Strategies

The basic outline of overarching strategies is outlined in the 2008 Poster, Sensors for Ocean Observations: The Missing Links (pdf download). Given the following problem statement— "As the number of ocean observing systems increases, our ability to effectively integrate their sensors and data declines. How can we achieve interoperable and scalable deployment of sensors in our oceans?"—the poster illustrates a life cycle of a well designed sensor, and its applications in an ocean observing system.

The major project strategies are illustrated in the top left section of the poster. Whether coordinated by a single entity or by a collaboration, program development and coordination must take place for the strategic objectives to be met.

Community Member Activities

In each of the following communities, individual tasks can be done in ways that accelerate sensor interoperability, rather than impede it.

In all cases, coordinating your work with the information on MMI's sensor interoperability activities page will help us coordinate the wide range of developments, or at least make those developments visible to the benefit of the rest of the community.

Anyone who is able to contribute to the maintenance of that page, and the other sensor interoperability pages at MMI, would be most welcome as a contributor. Contact John Graybeal for details on this activity.


Sensor manufacturers can anticipate the needs of their customers by incorporating readable data storage within their devices, and supporting a community architecture for reading data from and writing data to this storage.

By becoming active members of the Marine Plug and Work Consortium, manufacturers can help guide the adoption of standard interfaces for accessing and using the storage on-board the platforms.

System Developers

The developers of data systems and observing systems can anticipate and promote the adoption of sensor interoperability frameworks in a number of different ways, including:

  • incorporate the use of sensor description models or standards in your systems;
  • participate in demonstration projects like OOSTethys;
  • help develop the vocabularies and device ontologies needed to create effective sensor interoperability;
  • talk to your organization and the manufacturers selling sensors, to make sure they know the advantages of interoperable sensors; and
  • work in the community to identify and resolve issues with these practices.


The momentum that has been building toward increasing sensor interoperability will quickly turn into mainstream practice as more of the community begins to participate.


Projects that support the development approaches above, and the coordinating activities below, will contribute significantly to the interoperability of devices.

Projects that recognize the value of provenance metadata—metadata that describes where data comes from, whether that be devices, processes, or people—will also recognize the importance of consistent sensor and process metadata. The activities for sensor interoperability described on these pages also address the wider ranges of needs for data provenance interoperability, and many of the solutions work equally well in both spheres, with very little if any adaptation.

Coordinating Organizations and Standards Bodies

Organizations that encourage and coordinate collaborative development of marine system solutions, like the Alliance for Coastal Technologies and the Marine Metadata Interoperability project, can maintain the overall perspective of the sensor life cycle illustrated here, and identify funding and collaboration opportunities that can further a community architecture for sensor interoperability.

Standards bodies can keep pursuing the difficult work of obtaining community consensus on standards like the content standards, unique IDs, plug-and-work protocols, and vocabulary references. Documenting the use of the standards in overarching frameworks, for example to include best practices, will accelerate adoption of the individual and collective standards.

Funding Agencies and Organizations

The funding direction must move into operational sensor interoperability agreements and solutions.

To the extent organizations fund research or development on specific projects, identifying those projects within the interoperability framework of the poster (pdf download) described above will help align the project results toward a common goal.

Creating a strategic organization to promote and facilitate agreement on sensor interoperability issues will be the most powerful act toward these goals, but must be a coordinated act to ensure that the community commits to the activities promoted by the organization.