As sensors become an integral part of most industries, their high-volume applications have increased their efficiencies of scale, thus in turn lowering prices and promoting adoption in other devices. Micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) accelerometers, for instance, are ubiquitous in airbags and have recently started appearing in commodity hardware such as laptop hard disc drives. Also, as a consequence of the many natural disasters that took place during 2005, public focus is shifting from artificial blunders to natural calamities, thus creating considerable potential for smart sensors in environment monitoring systems.
Typically, smart sensors find use in a range of diverse industries including the likes of homeland security agriculture, automation and healthcare. Using an array of smart sensor gauges, wireless sensor networks (WSNs) find key applications in numerously varied military projects, effort tracking, effort management systems, habitat and water quality monitoring, agricultural studies, radiation detection, homeland security, as well as preventive maintenance of machinery. The key benefit of wireless sensor systems lies in their ability to poll the data read by sensors wirelessly, thus allowing storage and analysis at a local facility.
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“Smart sensor and WSNs offer numerous market benefits and while the last few years have been called the information age, we are now looking at a sensor age with the enmeshing of the physical world with cyberspace,” notes Technical Insights Research Analyst Mahaneeya Raman. “Such systems facilitate the detection of both data as well as events and apart from their tracking benefits, WSNs also enable the cataloguing and itemizing of numerous devices and objects in addition to information.”
However, despite their technological superiority, one of the biggest competing technologies for WSNs is the existing base of wired systems. Most buildings that are a target of the WSN vendors are almost 90-100 years old and have existing wired systems. Additionally, although the costs of sensor systems are declining, the reduction remains insufficient to significantly bolster adoption rates. Cost is a significant issue, especially in applications that require additional intelligence in terms of added microelectronic hardware, software and data communication modules. In lower volumes, MEMS-based sensors, nanosensors and implantable smart sensors can be more expensive than regular general-purpose systems.
In addition, the unpredictable nature of the communication landscape is a further handicap for the deployment of WSNs. In popular sense, this essentially translates to an increase in the noise disturbances that pervade networks and corrupt communication links. A wireless device that travels through space normally experiences interference as well as network congestion and the intensity of these parameters varies at different points and moments.
“In unpredictable heterogeneous wireless systems, devising coding architectures that are dynamic and adaptable while being able to transfer information reliably, without altering the peak rate, forms the best solution to the challenges noted above,” says Raman.
Smart Sensors and Sensor Networks: Opportunities for Networked Intelligent Wireless Sensors, a part of the Sensors & Instrumentation Subscription, reviews the advances in smart sensor and sensor networking areas with an emphasis on innovative technology. It includes an analysis of the hardware and software used to sense signals, store sensed data, as well as communicate and process information along with modules that power sensors for very long periods of time and also provides information about organizations, companies, universities, and research institutions involved in R&D. Analyst interviews are available to the press.
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Smart Sensors and Sensor Networks: Opportunities for Networked Intelligent Wireless Sensors