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IEEE foretells of networks more powerful than the internet


December 17, 2010
By Anthony Capkun

December 16, 2010

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 update issue about Sensor Networks and Applications in Proceedings of the IEEE, a general interest journal in electrical engineering and computer science since 1913.

“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,” explained 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,” explained 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 auto-configuration properties
needed to handle the expected growth of the internet,” said 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,” predicted 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. According to the authors, the
increased portability, scalability and rapidly deployable nature of
wireless sensing systems can be used, for example, 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,”
explained JeongGil Ko, whjo is with Johns Hopkins University.

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 behavioural 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,”explained 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.

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