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Archive for February, 2011

Researchers use Wi-Fi network to monitor melting glaciers

Scientists at two UK universities are planning to use Wi-Fi based network to monitor the flow of glaciers at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

The sensor network consisting of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers and Wi-Fi based relaying nodes will be installed on Helheim Glacier, an important calving glacier in south-east Greenland and will measure changes in the distribution of glacier motion and geometry.

The aim of the project is to improve understanding of how the outlet glaciers at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, thought to be particularly sensitive to changes in air and ocean temperatures, react to climate change. The processes leading to iceberg formation or ‘calving’ are particularly important because they control mass loss from the ice sheet but are poorly understood.

Detailed observations of iceberg calving events have until now proved elusive due to the difficulty of positioning instrumentation on the heavily-crevassed ice surface and for the reason that sensors would be lost during iceberg calving. To combat this problem, researchers at Swansea and Newcastle Universities have joined forces to create a network of expendable GPS based receivers.

According to Dr Stuart Edwards from Newcastle University’s Geomatics Group and a graduate of Swansea University, software they have developed in Newcastle will allow the GNSS receivers to provide measurements accurate to a few centimetres.

According to Professor Tim O’Farrell from Swansea University’s College of Engineering, these sensors will be connected to each other and to a base station via a network of expendable, low-power wireless transceivers and deployed on the Helheim Glacier. A proportion of the network’s nodes are expected to be lost during each calving event. However, the novel ‘self-organizing” design of the network ensures that data can still be collected from the nodes that remain operational.

The innovative nature of the network and its components make it economically and logistically possible to deploy a large number of sensors by a helicopter in the heavily crevassed calving region of the glacier.

In addition, the use of wireless networks in an extreme environment will assist in the development of the next generation of wireless networks such as mobile phone networks.

The research project will be undertaken during two summer field seasons in 2012 and 2013.

More info here.

 

Two PhD Positions Available in Trento, Italy

Applications are invited from those interested in pursuing a PhD in wireless sensor networks (WSNs) in Trento, Italy within the D3S group.  Two positions are currently available. D3S is a cross-institution group of researchers from both the University of Trento and the nearby FBK-IRST research center, whose projects are characterised by theoretical backing and practical applicability.

Trento is a vibrant city with a beautifully preserved historic center, consistently ranked at the top for quality of life in Italy.  It offers a variety of cultural and sports opportunities all year around, as well as excellent food and wine.

Applications must be filed online before 13h00 CET, 16 March 2011. More information about this exciting opportunity available here.

Networked Embedded Systems: Humans in the Loop

The Cooperating Objects Network of Excellence (CONET) is organising another Summer School this year. Like the 2009 edition, the school goes back to Bertinoro International Center for Informatics (BiCi), (Forlì-Cesena), Italy and will be held on 24 – 30 July, 2011.

Sensor networks, cyber-physical systems, and cooperating objects are becoming an important part of our daily life. Humans build, deploy, use, and maintain these systems that can sense our activities and influence our behaviour. We will increasingly rely on these networked embedded systems, therefore also requiring a secure and privacy-preserving treatment of sensitive human-centric data. Novel paradigms and solutions are also needed to allow humans to interact with these systems.

The goal of the summer school is to survey fundamental and applied aspects of networked embedded systems and their relationship to humans, as well as to identify novel opportunities and research directions in these areas through a series of lectures by international experts. Participants will also experience the relevant technologies during hands-on courses and be given a chance to present their own work during a participants’ workshop. The school will provide a great opportunity to know other people working in the field, to meet distinguished scholars, and to establish contacts that may lead to research collaborations in the future. We expect about 60 participants. The intended audience are postgraduate students, PhD students, and young researchers from universities and industrial laboratories around the world.

More information available here.

Researchers unveil first mm-scale computing system

University of Michigan computer scientists and engineers are at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco today presenting papers on two systems: a prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients and a compact radio for wireless sensor networks.

What makes their presentation so remarkable is that both systems involve what is believed to be the first complete millimeter-scale computing system.

The near-invisible package is just over 1 cubic millimeter in size and includes an ultra-low-power microprocessor, a thin-film battery, a solar cell, memory, a pressure sensor, and a wireless radio with an antenna.

“Millimeter-scale systems…have a host of new applications for monitoring our bodies, our environment, and our buildings,” said Professor David Blaauw in a news release. “Because they’re so small, you could manufacture hundreds of thousands on one wafer. There could be 10s to 100s of them per person, and it’s this per capita increase that fuels the semiconductor industry’s growth.”

The team points to Bell’s Law, formulated by computer engineer Gordon Bell in 1972, which says that a new class of smaller and cheaper computers is developed roughly every decade. This is considered to be a partial corollary to Moore’s Law, established in 1970 and named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore (first names coincidental), which describes the now 50-plus-year trend that the number of transistors able to be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years.

The new system out of Michigan is being hailed as the first in a new class of millimeter-scale computing, and while the researchers are specifically targeting the medical side of body sensor networks, other potential applications include tracking such things as pollution, weapons, structural integrity, and more.

The eye pressure monitor is designed not only for direct implantation but also continuous tracking of glaucoma, a disease that can lead to blindness. It incorporates the team’s third-gen Phoenix Processor, which combines an extreme sleep mode and a unique power-gating system for ultra-low-power usage (averaging 5.3 nanowatts).

The system wakes every 15 minutes to take measurements and relies on 10 hours of indoor light or 1.5 hours of sunlight every day for full battery recharging. The team says the device could be commercially available in the next several years.

The researchers are also working on a radio with an on-chip antenna using an advanced complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) process that allows them to control the antenna’s shape and size, and thus its response to electrical signals. Because of this control, they can do away with the bulky external crystals that keep time and select radio frequency bands for communication between two isolated devices, thereby drastically reducing the size of the radio system.

The university hopes to patent these tiny-yet-huge developments, and is looking for commercial partners to help bring the tech to market.

More info here.

Body network spars with Bluetooth

An emerging body area network (BAN) technology is gearing up to compete with Bluetooth Low Energy across a broad range of medical and consumer applications. The competition comes as medical devices are increasingly adopting a growing set of wireless network technologies including Wi-Fi and Zigbee.

Backers of the IEEE 802.15.6 effort say the standard could be completed this year and products based on it could ship in 2012. The specification promises a range of implementations roughly on par with Bluetooth bandwidth and range but at much lower power consumption and less interference.

GE aims to use the technology in a broad range of hospital patient monitors. Since 2008, it has lobbied the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to open up spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band for such devices, replacing today’s expensive and cumbersome wired links.

More info here.

Japan company developing sensors for seniors

Japan’s top telecoms company is developing a simple wristwatch-like device to monitor the well-being of the elderly, part of a growing effort to improve care of the old in a nation whose population is aging faster than anywhere else.

The device, worn like a watch, has a built-in camera, microphone and, which measure the pace and direction of hand movements to discern what wearers are doing – from brushing their teeth to vacuuming or making coffee.

In a demonstration at  Corp.’s research facility, the test subject’s movements were collected as data that popped up as lines on a graph – with each kind of activity showing up as different patterns of lines. Using this technology, what an elderly person is doing during each hour of the day can be shown on a chart.

The prototype was connected to a personal computer for the demonstration, but researchers said such data could also be relayed by wireless or stored in a memory card to be looked at later.

Plans for commercial use are still undecided. But similar sensors are being tested around the world as tools for elderly care.

In the U.S., the Institute on Aging at the University of Virginia has been carrying out studies in practical applications of what it calls “body area” to promote senior independent living.

What’s important is that wearable sensors be easy to use, unobtrusive, ergonomic and even stylish, according to the institute, based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Costs, safety and  are also key.

More info here.

openAlerts

openAlerts is free, open source software to remotely monitor and control sensors over IP networks. With openAlerts you can configure, control and monitor sensors from a web browser, receive e-mail and text message alerts, and trigger control commands based on sensor conditions.

Just about any operation that monitors and controls something can benefit from openAlerts. Telematics, health-care, utilities, security, automation, industrial control, transportation, agriculture – these are only a few examples where openAlerts can be used.

openAlerts is about connecting systems, devices and people. Unfortunately, smart sensing and control technologies are complex, and proprietary solutions are expensive. openAlerts is designed to reduce the complexities and lower the cost. Simplification is the key.

More info here.

Mobile Phones Will Serve as Central Hub to "Internet of Things"

At a keynote event during this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Qualcomm Chairman and CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs talked about how mobile technology could be used to connect non-phone, non-tablet devices and objects to the Internet. This concept is generally referred to as the “Internet of Things,” or, as Dr. Jacobs says, “the Internet of Everything.”

In this future where everything is Web-connected, mobile phones will serve as the hub, or the remote control, for all the things around you. It will operate as your 6th sense for the machine-to-machine network of devices.

Dr. Jacobs began his talk by looking back on the history of mobile. “Ten years ago, voice was killer app,” he said. Now voice is less and less important, while data is increasingly so. People expect data everyone – more than phones, tablets, and e-readers – “going forward, everything is going to be connected.”

And in this new network, where inanimate objects are Internet-enabled, your mobile phone will sit in the center of this Web of things. It will help you orchestrate the interactions of the things around you and provide real-time access to all sorts of info, including the people you meet, the places you go and the content that’s available there.

The phone is the key to authenticating with these connected devices and taking their content with you, wherever you go.

But in order to support this emerging machine-to-machine environment (M2M), there are several things that will be needed. First, there needs to be peer-to-peer support between devices. You should be able to discover the objects in a room with devices that are operating at a very low power level. This technology should even be down to the physical layer of device, he said, and the interactions it enables shouldn’t need to hop on the cellular data network to occur – they should bypass it.

That means that modern devices will need to support multiple radios in addition to the cellular radio. They should also have a local radio, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, satellite, NFC (near field communication), etc. End users won’t care how it works – they just expect the phone to connect to the fastest connection available to them at the present time.

In this multi-radio environment, radios will become embedded into all sorts of devices, consumer electronics and otherwise. This will lead to an explosion of data on the network. For operators, that means they’ll need to figure out how to make their networks run more efficiently to accommodate the data traffic.

By 2014, said Dr. Jacobs, 70% of all consumer electronics devices will be connected to the Internet.

Another facet of the development of this Web of things will be the creation of devices with increased capabilities. Devices will have multi-core processors, multi-mode radios, 3D capture and play abilities and other sensors. Augmented reality will come into play, too – that is, looking through your phone’s camera, you can “see” a data layer over top the “real” world.

One of the major areas of development in this Internet of Things is in wireless health . By 2014, there will be greater than 400 million wearable wireless sensors shipped. Just like the Internet helps you feel more connected with other people, these wearable devices will help you feel more connected to your healthcare professional. You will have a sense that you’re being looked after. There’s an economic incentive here too – the management of chromic disease accounts for three quarters of health care costs, Dr. Jacobs said. Your phone will act as the hub for the wireless sensors around you, connecting you to this information about your health.

Initially, emerging markets may see developments in wireless health first, simply because of need, but these developments will come to more developed markets as well.

At the end of the speech, Dr. Jacobs said that it’s an exciting time in the mobile industry – it’s as exciting as the beginning of the mobile Internet itself. We can’t help but agree.

More info here.

Sensinode announced funding

Sensinode, a leading provider of software that powers the “Internet of Things”, today announced that Conor Venture Partners will invest 1 million Euro to accelerate the international growth of the company.

“Our mission is to revolutionize business processes with our IP-based embedded software and management solutions, to enable Smart Grid, cellular M2M, enterprise building automation and asset management markets. We are excited to collaborate with Conor Venture Partners. This new funding and the support of the experienced Conor team will accelerate our growth in the international market,” says Adam Gould, CEO of Sensinode.

Sensinode is the pioneer and world leader in IP-based machine-to-machine and wireless sensor networking platforms. It provides end to end software solutions to implement IPv6-based networks, including 6LoWPAN technology, to chip and gateway manufacturers, OEMs, solution providers, engineering houses and system integrators.

The new funding builds on significant developments for Sensinode in 2010, including:

-  Closing of a 1.2 million Euro Series A round in early 2010.

-  Adam Gould’s appointment as CEO, adding 25+ years of technology and marketing management expertise, at companies such as Nokia, NextWave and Motorola, to the firm.

-  Joining the ZigBee Alliance, with particular focus on providing software solutions for the new IP-based ZigBee Smart Energy Profile 2.0

More info here.

New Sun SPOT 'rev8' Development Kits are now available

A Sun SPOT Java Development Kit includes 2 full Sun SPOT devices and a base station, as well as development tools, tutorials, sample code and accessories. A Sun SPOT device is built by stacking a Sun SPOT processor board with a sensor board and battery.

The main SPOT processor board has been redesigned. New features include:

  • RAM memory increased to 1 Mb.
  • Flash memory increased to 8 Mb.
  • Now based on the 400MHz (2.226 times faster then the rev 6 speed).
  • Access to the radio (CC2420) is now on a second SPI bus.

Three serial lines are now available:

  • RX1/TX1 go to pads on processor board,
  • RX0/TX0 go to RX/TX pin on sensor board,
  • RX2/TX2 go to the top connector.

Power Controller microcontroller now provides a Watchdog timer that is accessible to SPOT applications for increased reliability.
2.4 GHz IEEE 802.15.4 radio with integrated antenna
USB interface
3.7V rechargeable 770 mAh lithium-ion battery
65 uA deep sleep mode
General Purpose Sensor Board

The SPOT sensor board has been redesigned. New features include:

  • No temperature sensor on eDemo (use temperature sensor on main processor board).
  • Now only 4 digital GPIO pins: D0-D3 (no D4).
  • Now only 4 analog in lines: A0-A3 (no A4+A5). Sampling takes longer as done via ATmega microcontroller.
  • New tri-color light sensor replaces old simple light sensor.
  • New MMA7455L accelerometer replaces LIS3L02AQ accelerometer. New accelerometer has three scale ranges: 2/4/8G.
  • I2C from sensor board output available on AVR SCL & SDA pins.
  • New lo-fi audio speaker lets the SPOT now make sounds.
  • New IR receiver (on SW1 input line) & IR transmitter (on SW1 input line).
  • By default sensor board ATmega microcontroller now stays awake when main processor board is powered down for deep sleep, and can generate interrupts to wake SPOT up on pin changes, switch presses, etc.
  • No longer support hardware threshold interrupts on acceleration, temperature or analog input. Use software monitoring instead.
  • Tricolor LEDs now controlled directly by main processor board.
  • Serial line from main processor board now available on RX/TX pins. Can also be level switched via SW3.
  • I2C from main processor board now available on SCL & SDA pins. Can also be level switched via SW3.

Software:

  • Squawk Virtual Machine
  • Fully capable J2ME CLDC 1.1 Java VM with OS functionality
  • VM executes directly out of flash memory
  • Device drivers written in Java
  • Automatic battery management

More info here.

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