Nov 01 2010

Making Wireless Sensor Networks Better

Wireless sensor networks offer potential for automation and data collection. But as a still-maturing technology, there’s room for improvement.

“The logistics of changing sensor batteries can be a problem,” says Kirsten West, principal analyst at West Technology Research Solutions. “That will be an improvement in the next couple of years.” Instead of batteries, power could come from whatever the sensor is monitoring, such as a change in temperature.

Crowding of the radio-frequency spectrum also will pose a challenge as WSNs grow, says Peter Haugen, research engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “You have to do smarter things to get all the sensor networks to work.” Some of his research has focused on improving the transmitting technology for sensors. Supercomputers at the California lab have modeled how sensor networks propagate, useful for choosing the right number and locations for sensors.

Interference is another challenge, says John Buttles, senior research engineer at Idaho National Laboratory. He’s researching interference among and between installed WSNs, which often use the same frequency as other wireless devices. “I’m developing methods and tools to look at these networks,” he says, “and determine health and what the potential problems are.”