You are here

A Wireless Safety Net

Location-sensing networks offer promise for information everywhere.

Wireless sensor networks offer the promise of smarter security, more efficient buildings and better tracking of assets. Their potential in government is largely untapped, but agencies are exploring the best ways to use the technology as IP addresses and nodes become increasingly prevalent in all types of devices — from smartphones and medical devices to thermostats and vehicles.

Wireless sensor networks offer the promise of smarter security, more efficient buildings and better tracking of assets. Their potential in government is largely untapped, but agencies are exploring the best ways to use the technology as IP addresses and nodes become increasingly prevalent in all types of devices — from smartphones and medical devices to thermostats and vehicles.

A wireless sensor network (WSN) comprises battery-­operated sensors connected by any wireless technology, says Kirsten West, principal analyst at West ­Technology Research Solutions. They can be set up in several ways, she says, such as meshed (sensors talk to each other) or star (they all talk to one central sensor) topologies. Sensors communicate back to a data center, processing area or even a PC.

There are plenty of agency-specific considerations for using location-sensing through WSNs, and security is a top priority.

The Homeland Security Department is wrapping up a four-year-plus sensor network test, says Kenneth Concepcion, program manager for the Borders and Maritime Security ­Division in DHS’ ­Science and ­Technology ­Directorate.

“We’re looking at developing technology to address cargo security,” says Concepcion, “what we call a container security device.” They’ve tapped numerous vendors to develop devices to meet their requirements, which include a long battery life for overseas trips, encryption of sensor data and consideration of international laws and networks. There’s a lot to consider when evaluating WSNs for use inside cargo containers, says Concepcion, such as the installation involved with the sensor devices, performance requirements and the size and weight of sensors.

Also, DHS’ devices must be connected continuously. “We use cellular or radio frequency to get Global Positioning System readings all the time,” Concepcion says. “We’re able to demonstrate truly global cellular communication,” as devices connect automatically with international networks.

Scratching the Surface

Other WSN uses abound, with some further along in implementation than others. West notes that parking control is a popular use for cities. Personnel and equipment tracking are also good tasks for sensors, she says, as are battlefield motion sensors and military fleet monitoring.

100,000+

IPv6-enabled wireless mesh sensors deployed in Atlanta, Jersey City and
New Orleans to monitor and control streetlights

SOURCE: IPSO Alliance

Sensors can manage building environmental systems, raising or lowering temperatures based on occupancy or, in a data center, the heat generated during peak processing.

“Building automation is low-hanging fruit” for users looking at WSNs, says Marc Petock, vice president of global marketing and communications at Tridium, a business entity within Honeywell.

The Environmental Protection Agency uses wireless sensors for facility metering and monitoring devices in some of its buildings. It’s useful for the agency especially when wired telemetry is not available, such as in remote buildings or the far reaches of a facility.

When making a building smarter, a WSN “has the advantage over wire in that it’s cost-effective, incredibly scalable and can get into hard-to-reach places,” says Petock. “It’s a good fit especially in a retrofitted environment.”

Honeywell is developing technology that lets different wireless sensor protocols work together — and there are plenty of protocols on the market. “There are a ton of proprietary wireless technologies being developed,” West says. “A lot of them have small potential markets, since the individual applications are so specific.”

To learn more about wireless sensor networks, go to fedtechmagazine.com/
410sensor
.

Depending on the use case, IT may end up sharing or ceding ownership of WSNs. For building automation, the IT team could work with facility teams, Petock says. “There’s not one group that is the sole decision-maker.”

Adding a wireless sensor network probably won’t overwhelm IT, according to West. Many WSN tools are Internet Protocol devices, and the IT team can plug those in and manage them just like any other IP network device, he says. “It’ll add work, but if it’s done right it’s not going to be a major hassle.”

More On

Oct 28 2010

Comments