Research results: Smart sensors, networks find way into diverse applications

By Control Engineering Staff October 31, 2006

Palo Alto, CA —Smart sensors and sensor networks are finding their way into almost all industries, recent research from Frost & Sullivan indicates. A vast number of technologies and products have been developed and many more are under development, the report goes on, observing that as sensors have become an integral part of most industries, their high-volume applications have increased their efficiencies of scale, lowering prices and promoting their adoption in other devices. Examples cited included the use of MEMS accelerometers in laptop hard disk drives and the increased use of smart sensors in environmental monitoring systems as a result of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

“Smart sensors and wireless sensor networks offer numerous market benefits,” says Mahaneeya Raman, F&S technical insights research analyst, “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.” Such systems facilitate the detection of data and events, and apart from their tracking benefits, wireless sensor networks also enable devices and objects, in addition to information, to be catalogued and itemized, Raman went on.

Other noteworthy findings include expected further miniaturization of wireless sensors. Such sensors, says the report, are increasingly becoming “monolithic ‘telesensors’ in which the sensor element, smart signal conditioning electronics, and wireless transceiver are integrated within the device.”

On the networking front, the report found the Ethernet protocol is currently the most widely used networking standard worldwide for wired and wireless networks. It observed that, with the emergence of the IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee standards, wireless sensing technology is slowly heading towards a standards-based environment. It also stated “Most researchers feel ZigBee wireless networking products, which are based on the IEEE 802.15.4 communications protocol, will be one of the key technologies to bring higher levels of reliability, security, and flexibility into home-like networking environments.”

In the next five years, the report predicted, sensor webs will become increasingly wireless and less data-intensive. It also noted that self-powered sensors are being developed extensively and that the emergence of those with energy-harvesting capability could eliminate the need for frequent battery changes and facilitate autonomous sensor networks.

Also read Control Engineering ‘s article, ” Measure More…Without Wires .”

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk Jeanine Katzel , senior editor