Going Fast with Wireless Technology

At 220 mph you inch your Indy Racing League (IRL) racecar away from the wall and head for the apex of turn number four. Your driving line brings your left side wheels just above the white line. You press the accelerator pedal and your 4.0-liter, 700 hp, Oldsmobile Aurora engine moves you smoothly onto the main straightaway.




  • Networking

  • Wireless communications

  • Data acquisition

  • Process and advanced control

  • Monitoring

  • Sensors

Spread spectrum technology overview
Bluetooth is not a hunting dog

At 220 mph you inch your Indy Racing League (IRL) racecar away from the wall and head for the apex of turn number four. Your driving line brings your left side wheels just above the white line. You press the accelerator pedal and your 4.0-liter, 700 hp, Oldsmobile Aurora engine moves you smoothly onto the main straightaway.

Approaching the start-finish line at 235 mph, the Pi Research (Indianapolis, Ind.) on-board data acquisition system begins automatically downloading tire pressures, laser measured ride height, corner exit speeds, race track section times, fuel usage, and other power train, chassis, and driver performance data to pit-based personal computers. You glance at the steering-wheel-mounted light-emitting diode display to see the last lap time was 39.9870 seconds. In the pits, technicians are analyzing your last lap data. As you exit turn two (about eight seconds later) you hear your crew chief's voice in your headset suggesting slight adjustments needed to shave 0.02 seconds off your lap time.

Welcome to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of The Indianapolis 500-mile (Indy-500) race, where 33 drivers compete on a 2.5-mile oval for 200 laps in the most famous motor sport race in the world, and where technologies are pushed to the limit.

Wireless technologies used in manufacturing processes may not be as clamorous or exciting as an IRL car, but the stakes can be just as high. For example, Control Chief (Bradford, Pa.) has been developing wireless solutions that allow people to perform hazardous activities from safe locations for more than 30 years. One problem addressed by Control Chief was a need to provide several hundred feet of separation between the operator and a dynamite drilling and charge setting rig for the mining industry. Control Chief's solution places a highly secure programmable logic controller on the rig and permits operation of the rig from a safe distance using a handheld wireless interface.

Keeping people out of harms way isn't always possible. Some situations, including motor sport racing and walking home alone late at night, put people at risk.

When seconds count

When people find themselves in life threatening situations, getting medical or security personnel to a specific location as quickly as possible is where technology can shine.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) is widely known throughout motor sports for the responsiveness and quality of its safety crews. When an accident occurs, IMS safety crews are often applying fire extinguisher material to the racecar before it comes to a complete stop.

IMS safety crew-like responsiveness is available to college students at the campuses of the University of Southern Alabama and the University of Florida thanks to Microgistic's (Melbourne, Fla.) WalkMate wireless personal safety system. Originally designed for college campuses, WalkMate is expanding into location and assistance identification (i.e., medical, security, etc.) in industrial and commercial facilities as well as planned residential and senior health care communities. But wirelessly keeping track of people and events extends well beyond college campuses and planned communities.

During 2001 the United States Air Force (USAF) will have completed deployment of a worldwide wireless seismic system to monitor nuclear test ban treaty compliance and detect rogue nuclear events.

Typical seismic array topology may range from four to eight remote sensors arranged in a circle or ellipse with a radius of several miles from a centrally located unit which serves as a relay to several global monitoring centers.

Each seismic sensor is a calibrated mass and spring mechanical device whose movement is tracked and digitized by a 24-bit A/D converter. Facing a need to reliably deploy this massive number of sensors in inaccessible and inhospitable areas, devoid of reliable communications infrastructure, and reusing a wide variety of internationally produced data radios and modems. USAF scientists mandated that physical and link levels use Ethernet and Internet Protocols. Metric System's (Carlsbad, Calif.) MAVRIC controllers Ethernet interface and its ability to directly interface with each sensors' asynchronous serial link interface protocol provides the project a globally accepted solution.

Regardless of your business' mission, improving performance requires speed and as Bill Gates, ceo of Microsoft, repeatedly articulates in his book 'Business @ the Speed of Thought,' beating the competition requires systems that deliver information, not just data, to those who can use it, before they even know they need it. Mr. Gates terms this, a digital nervous system. In motor sports racing, Mr. Gates' digital nervous system is an extension of the human nervous system that makes race teams remarkably competitive.

During 1999 qualifying for the Indy 500, the four-lap (10 mile) qualifying time difference between the fastest and slowest of the 33 starters was 3.695 seconds, and the four-lap difference between the two fastest qualifiers was 0.106 seconds, just 0.0188 seconds per lap. In such a competitive environment, maximizing information to improve lap times by 0.02 seconds can put you in the winners circle.

Like Indy race teams-when seconds can make the difference between winning a big customer order and just coming close-deployment of wireless technologies can shave valuable seconds in getting the right information to the right person, no matter where they are located.

For example, process engineers, operations managers, maintenance supervisors, and materials managers are able to access plant floor information anywhere in the world on their PalmVII and Microsoft WindowsCE wireless Internet appliances using Lighthammer's (Malvern, Pa.) Illuminator plant information portal software. Similarly, Spyglass's (Naperville, Ill.) Prisim 3.0 dynamically transforms and delivers HyperText Markup Language content to Wireless Application Protocol compliant devices and other information appliances that vary in display capabilities, processing power, and communications speed.

In addition to convenience, wireless technologies, using broadband frequency, can deliver information much faster than most Internet users are presently use to. 'In a line of sight configuration, speeds up to 155 Megabits per second are possible, making a one-hour modem download at 56 Kbaud take less than two seconds,' explains Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Va.) associate professor Laurence Carstensen.

The Center for Wireless Telecommunications at Virginia Tech is using funding provided by the National Science Foundation to develop a wireless network system design and layout tool set called GETWEBS (Geographic-Engineering Tool for Wireless: Evaluation of Broadband Systems). Dr. Carstensen explains that wireless applications include high-speed Internet access for the 'last mile' between home or business and a hub connected to fiber optics. Other services could include multi-media delivery, wireless cable TV, telephony, on-demand music services, and teleconferencing.

Virginia Tech's GETWEBS project and Mr. Gates' book illustrate how companies are beating competition the world over, by using speed as a competitive advantage.

Addressing the 'last mile' problem is not confined to Virginia Tech.

Digital Wireless's (Norcross, Ga.) SSuRFNet (Spread Spectrum RF wireless Internet) access system operates in the license-free 2.4 GHz band. The system delivers high-speed wireless Internet access to world areas without wired telephone infrastructure SSuRFNet also supplements existing wired systems to meet the growing demands of scientists health-care and disaster relief workers, and others whose efforts can be enhanced through Internet access.

But for businesses, speed and technology don't ensure winning. Winning requires excellence in every aspect of the enterprise.

Attention to detail wins

In 1992, Scott Goodyear chased Al Unser Jr. down in a brilliant final two-lap charge, but crossed the finish line a half-car length (0.0043 seconds) behind. In 1997 Scott trailed Arie Luyendyk to the checkered flag by 0.0057 seconds. In motor sports, the best prepared, best trained, most reliable, and quickest win. The same is true in other businesses...companies that embrace technology to make their businesses responsive, ensure their processes and procedures are reliable, and assemble the best available talent, also win.

Weyerhaeuser's Cedar River Paper (Cedar Rapids, Ia.) plant enhanced its opportunity to win by installing a wireless condition monitoring system from Entek (Milford, O.) to collect paper machine vibration data. Collected data is transmitted to a central location where predictive maintenance coordinators, such as Tim Robertson, conduct vibration spectrum analysis to identify and pinpoint the source of problems, before they cause unexpected paper machine shutdowns.

'Knowing a problem's magnitude and source allows us to coordinate maintenance activities with operations and that creates a win-win situation,' says Mr. Robertson.

Another pulp and paper producer is using wireless hardware and software from National Instrument's (Austin, Tex.) and AstenJohnson (Charleston, S.C.) to monitor and analyze paper machine vibration and pulsation data. Following installation and training, the mill reported a 76% reduction in overall product variability as a result of having a better understanding of how the paper machines are performing. That's a winner!

Winning can also be measured another way. When an alarm sounds, a race begins between operators and protection and/or shutdown systems. Operators race to minimize the impact to the enterprise by mitigating the risk before a protection or shutdown system activates. If an alarm sounds when operators are away from the control room, they get a late start in the race.

Wireless warning and alarm systems from World Electronics (Coral Springs, Fla.) are being used by companies like Reynolds Aluminum, Monsanto, Sears, and Stepan Chemical to get operators and emergency response teams in the race with protection and shutdown systems as early as possible.

People always seem to race with something, either as part of their job, or just for fun. Contestants in the 1999 Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii were not only racing one another; they were also racing the weather. Thanks to Media Concepts Sportvision (Kailua-Kona, H.I.) contestants and viewers were provided real-time race information, including weather information from wireless weather monitoring stations and display monitors along the race route.

'We were pleased with the capabilities and ease of integration of National Instruments MiniDAT and Labview software into our wireless network,' says Media Concepts principal engineer David Hollingsworth.

It's hard to say how much the winner of the Ironman Triathlon relied on the available technology, but in motor sports, where the playing field is about as level as you'll find in any business, wise use of technology can produce a competitive advantage.

Technology as competitive advantage

IRL teams compete within established rules of chassis design, engine restrictions, tire size, weight, and fuel mileage. Gaining competitive advantage in motor sports, and in manufacturing and processing, boils down to assembling the most reliable equipment and then optimizing the equipment's performance using talent and technology. Sophisticated wireless technologies in IRL racecars provide data for optimizing performance.

For example, the body (tub) of the racecar is aerodynamically designed so at racing speeds, air movement over, around, and under the racecar creates a vacuum (downforce) and causes the racecar to 'stick' to the track. The challenge is to create the maximum amount of downforce on the racecar without bottoming out.

Using Pi Research's ride height system, multiple laser sensing heads are mounted on the underside of the racecar tub. By combining and analyzing height data from the laser sensors it is possible to determine the optimal pitch and roll for a particular racecar setup at a particular racetrack.

In business and in motorsport racing, focusing to optimize one variable does not ensure winning or even finishing. Like IRL competitors, manufacturers use strikingly similar business system software, sensors, instrumentation, networks, control systems, and algorithms. To become a consistent winner requires making better use of equipment and talent than the competition.

The same is true in motorsports. Engine and fuel specifications are tightly controlled, so race team engine builders constantly seek 'tricks' to achieve more 'get up and go' than the team in the next pit. The problem is ensuring positive results achieved with engine tricks, are not negated by other performance changes.

For race teams, determining the effectiveness of each new 'trick' under racing conditions is accomplished using a Pi Research wireless torque measurement system. Miniature wireless strain gage transmitters are attached to each driveshaft and aligned with a corresponding receiver. The receivers forward the data to the data acquisition module mounted inside the racecar's tub. Each lap, driveshaft torque data is logged and downloaded to the pit-based PC where technicians analyze the racecar and driver as an integrated system, attempting to identify a competitive advantage. Manufacturing's 'race conditions' are observed when sensors and instrumentation keep statistical process and quality control applications continuously updated (see related article, this issue).

Knowing where everyone is

By the time the Indy-500 reaches the halfway point, the 33 racecars that began the race are on different laps, passing and re-passing, making pit stops, and some are out of the race because of mechanical failures. Timing and scoring use to be done by assigning one person in the timing and scoring tower to each car and using a combination of stop watches, balls on a horizontal string, and paper and pencil. But that was long before wireless technologies arrived at IMS.

In time for the May 28, 2000, Indy-500, a next-generation wireless timing and scoring system from AMB i.t. (College Park, Ga.) will be installed and operational. AMB's technology uses intelligent digital signal processing to identify and time each racecar to 0.0001 seconds.

Each racecar is equipped with a uniquely coded magnetic induction transponder. Detector loops can be embedded in the racetrack. For example, at the start/finish line, at the beginning and end of a straightaway, at the pit entrance and exits, and other locations where speed information helps race officials and/or enhances spectator information. When the racecar crosses the detector loop, a unique signal is detected and transferred by coax cable to the decoder where information automatically updates teams, media, and track video monitors and scoreboards.

Keeping track of racecars is one use of wireless technology; keeping track of employees, inventory, and assets is another.

For example, WhereNet (Santa Clara, Calif.) has developed a technology that uses multiple personal-computer (PC) based radio receivers strategically placed around an area to be monitored. Each radio receiver communicates to a central browser-based PC containing software and high-resolution maps or floor plans of the area under surveillance.

Individuals, high value assets, pallets, containers, truck trailers, etc. have attached to them (or carry with them) a pager-sized transmitter, each with a unique radio signal. When a transmitter is activated by motion, a button, or some other means, a unique radio signal is transmitted. Each PC-based receiver time stamps when the radio signal is received and sends the information to the central PC where software determines the location of the sending unit and displays the location, type of request, etc., on a map or floor plan.

A large beverage manufacturer is using WhereNet to reduce spoilage and demeritage fees by tracking on-site syrup trailers. Ford Motor's Van Dyke transmission plant is using WhereNet to assist with demand-flow parts replenishment and inventory management.

Inventory management was also costing a major chemical fiber manufacturer a lot of money due to lost inventory and improper billing of products. One source of loss occurred when the initial customer shipment was an inferior product and a rush shipment of a better quality product was made with the manufacturer absorbing all related costs. A second source of loss occurred when superior products were inadvertently shipped, but invoiced at lesser-grade prices.

Using 100 Intermec (Everett, Wa.) Janus hand-held computers with built-in laser scanners, communicating wirelessly to a base station receiver, warehouse workers were able to scan, verify, and reconcile fiber products prior to shipment.

For a wide range of applications-including inventory management, personal security, nuclear test ban monitoring, dynamite rig control, paper machine performance, or winning the Indy-500-wireless technologies can provide a robust and proven solution.

Take a walk through your business and see where wireless technology could provide a competitive edge and help place your business in the winner's circle.

Spread spectrum technology overview

The fundamental function of all spread spectrum systems is to increase the signal bandwidth to an amount far greater than necessary to carry the desired channel information.

Spread spectrum applications start with a desired channel data rate that could be carried by radio signals assigned to a fixed channel frequency. In a licensed application with exclusive use of that channel, spread spectrum may offer little advantage except a measure of security.

Unfortunately, there are not enough exclusive use frequencies, thus certain bands of frequencies have been allocated for unlicensed-shared use. Spread-spectrum techniques provide reliable communications within these shared-use bands.

By spreading data transmission over a large bandwidth, the average power level at any one frequency is reduced. Spreading data transmission over a large bandwidth causes less interference for others in the same band. The ratio of spread spectrum bandwidth to the information in bandwidth is a key characteristic called process gain-a measurement of ability for a spread-spectrum system to overcome interference.

Three popular means exist for spreading data signals.

1. Slow frequency hopping techniques transmit data signals as a narrow band signal with a bandwidth only wide enough to carry the required data rate. At specific intervals, this narrow band signal is moved, or hopped, to a different frequency within the allowed band. The sequence of frequencies follows a pseudo-random sequence known to both the transmitting and receiving nodes.

This approach is readily understandable and relatively inexpensive to implement. It offers the ability to recover data lost during one transmit cycle by re-transmitting the same data on another channel, however these systems may dwell on one frequency for a quarter of a second and risk the loss of considerable data that must be recovered.

2. Fast frequency hopping is similar to slow hopping except the hop rate is significantly faster. By definition, fast hoppers make many hops for each bit of data that is transmitted. Each fast hopping data bit is redundantly transmitted on several different frequencies. At the receiving end, the receiver needs only to receive the majority of redundant bits correctly to recover the data without error.

Real-time redundancy of data transmission provides true process gain, which is the real benefit of fast hopping.

The downside of this approach is that making rapid frequency shifts while maintaining frequency and phase coherency increases complexity and expense.

3. Direct-sequence spread spectrum grew out of a need to increase the performance and reduce the cost of fast hopper implementations. The basic challenge was to increase the hopping rate so each data bit could be more redundantly encoded (more process gain), or could be transmitted at a higher bit rate.

The breakthrough came by realizing that a pseudo-random digital code contains frequencies from dc to that of the code-clock rate. When the narrow band data signal is multiplied by the pseudo-random code sequence, the signal spectrum is spread to a bandwidth twice that of the code.

This is a lot like making chaos out of order, however the magic and non-intuitive element is that by multiplying the pseudo noise spread signal with a copy of the same pseudo noise, the original data signal is recovered. This process is called correlation and only occurs if the codes are identical and perfectly aligned to within a fraction of the code clock.

Excerpt from material provided by Metric Systems.

Bluetooth is not a hunting dog

When business people accessorize, notebook computers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants are as much a part of the business attire as matching shoes, belt, and purse. But until the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) was formed, integration of these business accessories required a techno geek, $150 of special-purpose cables, and the patience of a kindergarten teacher on a field trip.

Bluetooth SIG is backed by more than 1,400 companies, including: Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, Motorola, 3Com, Toshiba, and Nokia. The group aims to develop a de facto standard, as well as a specification, for small-form factor, low cost, short range radio links that form a personal area network (approximately 30 ft.). Such a network would allow dissimilar devices to exchange information at about one megabit per second.

Although Bluetooth's network protocols are simple and limited to eight simultaneous devices, the use of frequency hopping means several Bluetooth networks could operate in the same vicinity. How well Bluetooth is accepted depends on how well Bluetooth incorporates network security. Some of the necessary security will be applied as encryption at the application level, but this technology lends itself to easy eavesdropping, so users need to ensure they understand their security needs and use them appropriately. Everyone wants to ensure the person across the aisle at the airport is not eavesdropping on his or her e-mail or cell phone conversations.

Ericsson has already demonstrated a Bluetooth compliant cell phone with wireless headset. Other Bluetooth compliant devices will soon be showing in a store near you.

No, Bluetooth is not a hunting dog, but it has the potential of making users howl with appreciation.

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