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Archive for December, 2010

A Special Issue for Sensor Networks and Applications

A network more powerful than the Internet, while perhaps inconceivable right now, is just one of many potentially life-changing applications for wireless sensor networks (WSN) highlighted in a special November update issue about Sensor Networks and Applications in Proceedings of the IEEE, the world’s most highly-cited general interest journal in electrical engineering and computer science since 1913.

Published by the IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional association, additional topics of this Proceedings issue include a look at forward-thinking healthcare applications for WSN that could greatly improve electronic triage at large disasters by monitoring the injured as well as medical personnel; a conservation approach for utilizing sensor networks to conserve natural resources like electricity, gas and water, and the emerging trend of publishing real-time sensor data on the Web that opens up a wide variety of novel application scenarios.

“Sensor network research has grown dramatically in the seven years since Proceedings of the IEEE first published a special research issue on ‘Sensor Networks and Applications’ in August, 2003,” explains Neal Patwari, guest editor for the Sensor Networks and Applications edition. “The visions for sensor networks and their applications have changed as research perspectives have shifted, so as we move forward it is important to pause at this crossroad and ‘look both ways’ to better understand how these perspectives came to be and have evolved over time.”

Sensor network research of the past decade is enabling a new tier of the Internet to emerge. As presented in “IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6)in Low-Power Wireless Networks” by Jonathan Hui and David Culler, developments of the past decade in low-power networking technology as well as the Internet Protocol will allow the Internet to extend into the physical world.

“A decade ago, the sensor networking community eschewed the use of IP for low-power networking because of a perception that IP was too resource-intensive and ill-suited to the needs of sensor network applications,” explains Jonathan Hui of Cisco Systems. “Not being bound to particular network architecture allowed significant developments in low-power wireless networking, but it was difficult to incorporate such networks into an existing IP-based network infrastructure.”

The paper demonstrates that it is possible to take the recent developments of low-power wireless networking and incorporate them into IP-based network architecture.

“IPv6, the next version of the Internet Protocol designed to supersede IPv4, provides the necessary scaling and autoconfiguration properties needed to handle the expected growth of the Internet,” says Hui. “IPv6 also provides the flexibility to include sensor networking advancements in low-power communication and mesh routing within the IP framework.”

With various standards bodies, such as the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), Z-Wave and ZigBee, adopting IP within low-power wireless networking standards, the stage has been set for the next tier of the Internet.

“With physically embedded devices, the Internet will grow far beyond its current scale with new and unforeseen applications,” predicts Hui. “IP provides the necessary architecture and framework for continued innovation in the low-power wireless networking space.”

Medical care will be a major beneficiary of the research outlined in “Wireless Sensor Networks for Healthcare” by JeongGil Ko, Chenyang Lu, Mani B. Srivastava, John A. Stankovic, Andreas Terzis and Matt Welsh, when these applications come to fruition. For example, according to the authors, the increased portability, scalability, and rapidly deployable nature of wireless sensing systems can be used to automatically report triage levels of numerous victims and continuously track the health status of first responders at the disaster scene more effectively.

While the paper acknowledges that triage protocols for monitoring the injured in mass-casualty disasters and other emergencies already exist, the problem currently is that their effectiveness can quickly degrade with increasing numbers of victims.

“There’s a critical need to employ new WSN technology to improve how we monitor the health of first responders during mass-casualty disasters, because if the people on the ground cannot function at an optimal level due to exhaustion or health issues we must know this and intervene before they and the disaster victims suffer negative consequences,” explains JeongGil Ko of Johns Hopkins University.

With the aging of America, the use of wireless sensor technology to foster an economical and efficient way to monitor age-related illnesses could be big news now and in the future. The paper explains how wireless networked sensors could be carried on a person or embedded in people’s living spaces to collect data about personal, physical, physiological and behavioral states in real-time, everywhere.

“These ‘living records’ will help individuals increase self-awareness of their health situation and will also help caregivers obtain early intervention when problems are evident,” explains Ko.

Also explained in this medical-focused article is the potential for a WSN monitoring application that provides aging and infirm patients with assistance for motor and sensory decline.

“When these sensors are worn by patients in declining health, the sensors deliver data that enable off-site medical support teams to attempt to help them retrain declining parts like arms and legs or provide some medical or mechanical supports so the patient can sustain a safe level of independence as long as feasible,” explained Ko. “Ultimately the network sensors can help determine the right time for assistance devices like canes, crutches, walkers and wheel chairs.”

It won’t be long until “Smart Buildings” are helping us conserve both energy and money by employing WSNs that adjust instantly to optimum heating and cooling temperatures, according to a paper with environmental research ramifications. Entitled “Circuit Design Advances for Wireless Sensing Applications” by Dennis Sylvester, Gregory Chen, Scott Hanson and David Blaauw the paper provides a comprehensive review of recent work in ultra-low-power circuits with examples of specific applications for medical diagnosis, infrastructure monitoring and environmental sensing among others.

Another future-gazing example is the use of agricultural sensors implanted in the ground adjacent to where crops grow that can deliver finite measurements for water presence and help save this resource by reducing the amount of water necessary for healthy crop growth. This application is explained in the research paper “Measurement Scheduling for Soil Moisture Sensing: From Physical Models to Optimal Control” by David Shuman, Ashutosh Nayyar, Aditya Mahajan, Yuriy Goykhman, Ke Li and Mingyan Liu.

More info here.

The Postman Always Pings Twice

From the New York Times:

THE Postal Service recently announced it had lost $8.5 billion in the last year, despite cutting more than 100,000 jobs. Without new revenue and other changes to get it back on a firm financial footing, it said, it could face insolvency by the end of 2011.

Fortunately, the service has a unique asset that could allow it to make money by collecting valuable data that would contribute to the country’s safety and economic health: its far-reaching network of trucks.

The service’s thousands of delivery vehicles have only one purpose now: to transport mail. But what if they were fitted with sensors to collect and transmit information about weather or air pollutants? The trucks would go from being bulky tools of industrial-age communication to being on the cutting edge of 21st-century information-gathering and forecasting.

More info here.

Wi-Fi Alliance: "Wi-Fi Offers Unsurpassed Capabilities For the Smart Grid"

A statement from the Wi-Fi Alliance about the recent GE White Paper comparing Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies:

A recent white paper authored by the General Electric Company comparing the power efficiency of Wi-Fi and Zigbee technologies in home Smart Grid applications is flawed, resulting in inaccurate findings.

The report, released on December 9, 2010 and titled, “Energy Efficiency Comparisons of Wireless Communication Technology Options for Smart Grid Enabled Devices” compares Wi-Fi and ZigBee in home Smart Grid applications, focusing on power consumption as the primary evaluation criterion.  The report bases its conclusion on measurements of a single implementation each of Zigbee and Wi-Fi, using Smart Energy Profile 1.0.

The evaluation was based on old technology and tested only one implementation.

The evaluation that formed the basis for the conclusions in the paper was conducted using ZigBee Smart Energy Profile 1.0, an older protocol which lacks key technical features, such as cyber security and IP communications, now specified by the federal government for Smart Grid use.

Moreover, the single tested Wi-Fi implementation in the study is based on an 802.11b chip, based on ten-year-old Wi-Fi technology.  Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ technology based upon 802.11n will be very widely used in Smart Grid applications, and is already used in millions of households around the world.  In fact, Wi-Fi offers a range of technology options, including 802.11a, g and n, that suit the diverse range of Smart Grid applications, and none of these technologies was tested.

The study’s design leads to inaccurate conclusions on power efficiency.

Because the evaluation was based on old technologies, its conclusions present an inaccurate characterization of the energy efficiency of both ZigBee and Wi-Fi technologies and cannot be used to draw generalized conclusions about the state of Smart Grid communications technology today.

Implementations of any technology using Smart Energy Profile 2.0 – the federally-specified implementation for the Smart Grid – will have increased power consumption compared with the version of the protocol which was tested, because of the additional data transmission requirements inherent in Smart Energy Profile 2.0.  It should be noted that 802.11n, the current generation of Wi-Fi technology, incorporates more efficient data transmission and more sophisticated power-saving mechanisms than 802.11b, and may perform better in an energy efficiency evaluation.  When evaluated using Smart Energy Profile 2.0 the differences in energy consumption between Wi-Fi and ZigBee could be much smaller.

The study’s limited scope excluded important criteria in which Wi-Fi has key strengths

A recent and significantly more comprehensive Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) study, available at http://www.aham.org/smartgrid, concludes with a leading ranking for Wi-Fi as the communications protocol technology of choice in smart home appliance applications because of its range and throughput benefits, power management, established certification ecosystem, significant installed base, and more.

Already the network of choice in an estimated 201 million households worldwide[Parks Associates, “Networks in the Home: Global Growth; A Report for the Wi-Fi Alliance”.], Wi-Fi brings a variety of features unmatched by other technologies, including whole-home coverage, IP-based communications, industry-standard security protections, and advanced power management mechanisms that meet the federally-specified requirements of smart energy applications.

About the Wi-Fi Alliance

The Wi-Fi Alliance is a global non-profit industry association of hundreds of leading companies devoted to the proliferation of Wi-Fi technology across devices and market segments. With technology development, market building, and regulatory programs, the Wi-Fi Alliance has enabled widespread adoption of Wi-Fi worldwide.

The Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ program was launched in March 2000.  It provides a widely-recognized designation of interoperability and quality, and it helps to ensure that Wi-Fi enabled products deliver the best user experience.  The Wi-Fi Alliance has completed more than 8,500 product certifications to date, encouraging the expanded use of Wi-Fi products and services in new and established markets.

Wi-Fi®, Wi-Fi Alliance®, WMM®, Wi-Fi Protected Access® (WPA), the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED logo, the Wi-Fi logo, the Wi-Fi ZONE logo, and the Wi-Fi Protected Setup logo are registered trademarks of the Wi-Fi Alliance; Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™, Wi-Fi Direct™, Wi-Fi Protected Setup™, Wi-Fi Multimedia™, and the Wi-Fi Alliance logo are trademarks of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Extending the Internet to Low power and Lossy Networks (IP+SN 2011)

April 11th 2010, Chicago, Illinois (Colocated with CPS Week 2011)

Authors are invited to submit papers for presentation at the workshop. The topics of interest include theoretical and empirical work in, but not limited to:

* Experience with 6LoWPAN/RPL implementations

* Experience with IP-based sensornet deployments

* Interoperability results

* Applications of IP-based sensor networks

* Application-level protocols (e.g., work related to the IETF CoRE WG on CoAP)

* End-to-end, IP-based architectures that include sensor networks

* Experience with IP over low-power, duty cycled networks

Important Dates

* Submission Deadline: Feb 14th

* Acceptance Notification: March 4th

* Camera Ready Due: March 21st

More info here.

Video – Waspmote out of the box

Libelium has just published the first of a series of videos about their Waspmote product. Here is what to do with a new Waspmote:

Dash7 Emerges As Competitive Option in Wireless Sensor Network Market

The study, “WTRS Wireless Sensor Network Technology Trends, Q4 2010”, now includes coverage of the Dash7 protocol.

“The strengths of the Dash7 protocol include its reliance on an international standard, use of the 433 MHz frequency that enables international operation and longer range than its competition, and its design for lower power operation than many of its competitors”, said Kirsten West, Principal Analyst with WTRS. “Given the serious interest and participation by key players in several commercial markets as well as the technical capability of the protocol, it is likely that Dash7 will penetrate markets currently the target of other WSN technologies and could displace a good portion of its competition.”

The WTRS Wireless Sensor Network Technology Trends Report analyzes and forecasts the market for wireless sensor networks. The report includes a thorough evaluation of emerging Wireless Sensor Network technologies and associated software including ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy, Wavenis, IEEE 802.15.4, Low Power WiFi, EnOcean, and others.

More info here.

Interesting paper: A high-resolution human contact network for infectious disease transmission

Abstract: The most frequent infectious diseases in humans—and those with the highest potential for rapid pandemic spread—are usually transmitted via droplets during close proximity interactions (CPIs). Despite the importance of this transmission route, very little is known about the dynamic patterns of CPIs. Using wireless sensor network technology, we obtained high-resolution data of CPIs during a typical day at an American high school, permitting the reconstruction of the social network relevant for infectious disease transmission. At 94% coverage, we collected 762,868 CPIs at a maximal distance of 3 m among 788 individuals. The data revealed a high-density network with typical small-world properties and a relatively homogeneous distribution of both interaction time and interaction partners among subjects. Computer simulations of the spread of an influenza-like disease on the weighted contact graph are in good agreement with absentee data during the most recent influenza season. Analysis of targeted immunization strategies suggested that contact network data are required to design strategies that are significantly more effective than random immunization. Immunization strategies based on contact network data were most effective at high vaccination coverage.

Read the complete paper here.

WSN to monitor health of record-breaking Transantarctic expedition team

Toumaz, the leading provider of ultra-low power wireless telemetry technologies for medical monitoring and internet-connected consumer devices, today announces that Sensium™-enabled devices are being used to monitor the health status of a team of explorers and scientists involved in a record-breaking expedition across the Antarctic. On Thursday 9th December 2010, the 10-man expedition team carried out the fastest ever vehicle crossing of the continent – the driest and coldest place on Earth – and aims to be the first vehicle-based team ever to complete the return journey.

The explorers are equipped with wearable Sensium-based devices that are wirelessly and continuously monitoring the physical effect on the body of the inhospitable minus 40 degree temperatures. Based on Toumaz’s Sensium technology, these small sized, unobtrusive devices provide ultra-low power, continuous wireless monitoring and can be worn on the chest with complete freedom of movement. The devices are being used to capture and locally process key vital signs information from the team, including ECG, heart rate, physical activity and other markers of stress. The data is being transmitted in real-time to computers in the SSVs and data sets have been sent via satellite phone to researchers back at Imperial College London for further analysis, providing a unique insight into the physiological impact of life in the harshest environment on the planet. Ray Thompson, Senior Research Associate at the Winston Wong Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology at Imperial College London, confirmed that the devices are functioning well in the extreme conditions, and gave his experience of the trip so far: “Nothing can adequately prepare you for Antarctica. It’s the coldest, windiest, driest place on Earth, and this year the conditions have been the worst for eighteen years. Temperatures have averaged minus 35 degrees since we began the crossing but add the wind-chill which is well into the minus 40s.”

More info here.

Introduction to security for smart object networks

Back in the days when electronics were simple and unconnected, securing such devices was unnecessary. After all, they weren’t networked to anything, and so could neither be attacked remotely nor cause harm to anything else.

But today’s smart objects – devices that are essentially small computers with communications capability – perform a wide range of functions, interact with each other, and even more critically, communicate with the world at large. Unfortunately, the proliferation of smart objects creates new opportunities for hackers to disrupt services, steal sensitive information, and commit fraud, just as they do on conventional computer networks.

This white paper discusses smart object applications and relevant threats, evaluates various approaches to securing against specific threats, offers some practical guidelines for building security into smart object networks, and tackles some common misconceptions about securing these devices.

Authors are: Kurt Stammberger and Monique Semp, Mocana; M. B. Anand, Eka Systems, Inc.; David Culler, University of California, Berkeley

More info here.

Smarter Sensors for Tire Monitors

From the NYT:

LIFE is not easy for tires. Beyond the injuries meted out by potholes and the stress imposed by drivers who insist on squealing through curves, there is the indignity of underinflation.

Tires with insufficient air pressure — a typical sign of owner indifference — not only reduce a car’s fuel economy and wear out faster, they are also at risk for blowouts. According to the Transportation Department, more than a quarter of all cars on American roads have at least one tire that is seriously low on air.

Since 2007, the federal government has required some form of tire pressure monitoring as a standard safety feature on new vehicles, and a phase-in of the systems will begin in Europe in a couple of years. The requirement was stipulated by Congress in 2000 as part of the Tread Act (the acronym stands for Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) following a swarm of rollover accidents and fatalities involving Firestone tires on Ford Explorers and similar trucks.

More info here.

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