The Twin Cities area is a hotbed of activity for sensor research and development. Several important companies operate here, including Honeywell, Banner, Turck, SICK, and NVE. This week, in mining for sensor news, I had the opportunity to visit a few of these and learn about some new developments that may well have implications for you. First I'll tell you about my inspiring visit to Honeywell Labs Camden, just north of downtown Minneapolis.
Minnesota Winters and Other Challenging Environments
The Camden lab is headquarters to Honeywell Automation and Control's wireless sensor networking research. In pursuing wireless, Honeywell is leveraging the expertise it has developed supplying products for the most difficult industrial environments. We're not talking low-power networks here, but those that need wired power for true viability. These take advantage of existing power lines; the advantage of wireless comes in communications flexibility and redundancy, and in the sometimes-astonishing cost savings of not having to run communications lines.
Honeywell's wireless sensors are robust, to say the least. The company concentrates its development efforts on its areas of expertise (e.g., hardening products for industrial applications and applying security technology) and partners extensively with radio vendors for data transmission. It has done exhaustive testing of radios—both inside the facility and outdoors in the extreme Minnesota winters—to determine which work best for which applications.
At Camden I met with Dan Sheflin, VP of Technology, and senior manager Anoop Mathur, who took me on a tour of the labs. There, senior staff scientist Pat Gonia joined us to help demonstrate how the company is working to realize the vision it put forth in a news release issued six weeks ago to bring together disparate wireless networks. In today's plants, wireless networks typically support homogeneous devices (such as hand-held devices or process sensors—but not both) and compete in the same bandwidth with different security configurations and so on. Honeywell's strategy is based on its extensive "voice of the customer" investigations, which shows that plant personnel are looking for a secure, reliable, scalable, power-managed, multi-functional strategic setup. So Honeywell is working on a plan for release in 2007 to support various industrial protocols and up to 30,000 devices, such as tablet PCs and sensors, and coexist with other wireless devices, such as PDAs, pagers, walkie-talkies, and cell phones. The company plans to leverage the security technology that has garnered several awards for the Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS) and a redundancy feature that automatically routes critical information if any device fails. The Camden lab team is supplemented by another impressive group of scientists and engineers in Bangalore, India.
With its large vision of a cooperative, all-encompassing wireless solution, I believe Honeywell is on the right path. It will be fun to see this vision take shape in coming months. Meanwhile, Honeywell continues to be very active in industrial wireless associations and standards groups such as WINA and the ISA's SP100, which you can follow, too.