Over the past few years, sensors have dramatically reduced in size and grown in efficiency and communication capabilities. These developments have given rise to the increasingly popular idea of global wireless sensor networks— spatially distributed autonomous sensors can be used to monitor a wide variety of physical and environmental conditions. While the primary barrier to deploying these networks is the supply of power through manual battery changes, ingenious new methods, such as ambient backscatter, could eventually see these devices power themselves without human intervention.
Originally conceptualized for military use, these networks now have wide ranging applications in civilian, industrial, and consumer markets. These extend from preventing trespassing to monitoring building strength and evaluating water quality to measuring individual heart rate. And this versatility is reflected in the rapid growth of the sector. In fact, a recent industry report suggests that the global wireless sensor network (WSN) sector could possibly touch USD 1.8 bn over the next decade. Alongside the Internet of Things (IoT), this is the most significant step towards a connected world, complete with ubiquitous computing.
An exciting industrial aspect of sensor network deployment is maintenance. A leading British multinational oil and gas company recently implemented this technology for preventive maintenance on oil rigs, driving down costs and improving machine performance. Construction is another major area of enterprise adoption. In addition to creating energy efficient smart buildings, companies also have the opportunity to monitor wear and tear, identify areas of improvement, and receive valuable real-time data on system performance. Combined with RFID and M2M, these networks could create an ecosystem of self-powered, self-repairing devices that all but eliminate the cost of manual maintenance. On a more individual level are sensor-based trends such as the Quantified Self. By combining processors with sensing technology, individuals can take a data-driven approach to holistic living, improving health by managing their lifestyle more efficiently. Other uses include wildlife tracking and the monitoring of endangered species, greatly aiding conservation efforts. Furthermore, sensors generate a substantial amount of data that could yield actionable insights, driving constant process improvement.
Adoption at scale, however, is not without its challenges. The progress of low cost, ubiquitous sensor networks largely hinges on the speed and quality of technological advancement, alternate methods of power supply, and the development of technical regulations and standards. But if industry research and the recent past are anything to go by, it won’t be long before we make yet another giant stride in connecting, monitoring, and understanding the physical world.
Do you know of any other potential applications of global wireless sensor networks? Share them with us in the comments section below.
Smart systems,ubiquitous computing,Wireless sensor networks