Nodes, Nodes, Everywhere!

E-mail Melanie Martella

With all the interest in the stimulus package proposed by the Obama administration, I was unsurprised to read a glowing future for wireless sensor networking (WSN), at least according to a recent market research study.

WSNs in the News
The recent release from ON World states "Aligned with government's top priorities, Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) is attracting hundreds of millions of R&D funding in several recession-proof markets [...] Including both public and private sources, WSN R&D spending will reach $1.3 billion in 2012, up from $522 million in 2007."

That's not too shabby. As expected, the big markets cited are energy (smart grid, in-home energy control, and renewable energy), environmental monitoring, healthcare, industrial automation, transportation, public safety, and structural monitoring. At least three of those are cited as areas of greatest interest to the current U.S. administration. In the EU, WSNs for elder care and remote patient monitoring are experiencing the most interest. (The report states that EU funding for WSNs has gone up 700% over the last five years, which sounds impressive until you realize that WSNs have really only come into their own in the last three or four years, but that may be just a quibble on my part.)

As far as structural monitoring goes, NIST's Technology Innovation Program (TIP) has awarded funding for nine research projects targeting infrastructure monitoring and inspection and four of the nine involve WSNs. (Editor's note: Hallelujah for TIP and I can't wait to see what these projects come up with!)

The confluence of multiple technologies (seriously low-power microcontrollers and radios, sophisticated power management, better batteries, practical energy harvesting, and robust networking protocols) has enabled these WSN projects to work in real-world situations to solve real-world problems.

I was also happy to see this article in the Christian Science Monitor talking about WSN and the various environmental and agricultural projects using these networks. It's nice to see sensors get a little well-deserved exposure to a wider audience. We know that sensors are clever and cool and useful but now the non-sensor folk do, too.

If the adoption of WSNs mirrors the adoption of sensors in industrial automation, automotive, and other fields, then I expect that both the number of WSNs and the number and types of sensors involved in them will increase significantly. It seems that however many sensors you have, you'll always want more of them to provide an ever-richer dataset and that this applies, whatever field you're in and whatever process you're trying to monitor.

How do you feel about the stimulus plans that are currently afoot? Do you think they're useful? Are you tired of WSNs getting all the press? Let me know!

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