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A New World Order With Wireless Sensors

Imagine combining the power of tiny RFID tags that quickly identify items with even tinier wireless sensors that can monitor everything from water crystallizing into ice to suspicious activity near a sealed container. The technology may be a few years' away from preventing highway pileups during a road freeze-up, but there are plenty of businesses testing it.
Imagine combining the power of tiny RFID tags that quickly identify items with even tinier wireless sensors that can monitor everything from water crystallizing into ice to suspicious activity near a sealed container.

In less than a second, you could alert a car that the road ahead is slick, or port security that someone is in an unauthorized area on a ship. This isn't the stuff of science fiction. There's actually quite a bit of research and development going into this kind of technology.

These wireless sensors, or motes, are enabled by the fusion of small, low-cost chips, low-powered radios, and wireless networking. They're far more advanced than the decades-old sensors used to monitor, for instance, temperatures or machines.

Motes rely on what's known as "mesh networking" software that, as InformationWeek senior writer Aaron Ricadela writes, "lets each device wake up for a fraction of a second when it has an interesting result to transmit, then relay that information a few yards to its nearest neighbor.

So instead of every sensor transmitting its information to a remote base station, an electronic bucket brigade moves data mote by mote until it reaches a central computer where it can be stored and analyzed." Moreover, the motes are intelligent " if one breaks down, a nearby mote will step in and take over.

The technology may be a few years' away from preventing highway pileups during a road freeze-up, but there are plenty of businesses testing it.

Science Applications International Corp., is looking at using motes for the Defense and Homeland Security departments to help secure U.S. borders, bridges, power plants, and ships. BP plc wants to use the intelligent, less-expensive wireless sensors to monitor its equipment at oil refineries. There are other examples, and lots of technology companies are pouring time and money into the technology.