Wireless Sensor Networking Software-The Next GenerationFebruary 1, 2006 By: Kristi Hobbs Sensors
As this genre of software evolves, new functionality is required before broader adoption can take place.
While wireless sensor networks have been a hot topic for years, the technology is just beginning to leave the laboratory and appear in real-life implementations in the industrial sector. The software provided by today's wireless sensor vendors includes the basics for performing wireless measurements—node configuration and management, as well as data logging and display. But to move to broader acceptance of the technology, the next generation of software must deliver three high-level features: node intelligence and automation, node aggregation, and integration with the rest of the enterprise (Figure 1).
Figure 1. As the number of real-life wireless sensor network implementations in the industrial sector grows, it becomes apparent that the next generation of software must provide intuitive, easy-to-use tools to create node intelligence and automation
Nearly every wireless sensor vendor's software provides some level of node configuration. For example, a user can add a node to the system, manually put it to sleep or wake it up, and configure how fast it streams data. Some software packages also visually represent where the node is located on a floor plan of the facility. And most software also offers information on the state of each node, indicating whether the node is connected to the network and actively transmitting data.
Nearly all software packages display real-time wireless sensor data on a graph for monitoring purposes. And some provide an interface that allows you to set up basic data logging, making it possible to export data to a spreadsheet for offline analysis (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Currently, most wireless sensor node data can only be logged to a spreadsheet. No easy automated method exists for distributing the data throughout the enterprise
While these software tools are fairly intuitive, they typically have fixed capabilities and lack several features that many users view as necessary for wireless sensor networks to be truly useful.
Today, most wireless sensors are passive nodes that simply pass back the data they are hard-coded to provide. Few have built-in intelligence for data analysis or automated power management. The nodes that do have a way to incorporate additional intelligence use programming interfaces that are not nearly as simple as the node management interface described earlier, and often you must resort to low-level text-based programming. This is a less than ideal situation for engineers and scientists who may be experts in their fields but who are not embedded programmers.
To make wireless sensor technology more palatable for a broader segment of the market, software for programming and managing sensor nodes must provide greater functionality.
Node Intelligence and Automation. Next-generation software must offer intuitive, easy-to-use tools to customize hardware nodes with additional intelligence, such as local analysis. Local analysis facilitates scenarios in which higher-power gateway nodes aggregate and process data from several lower-power nodes and pass minimal information, such as the result of a limit test, back to a central location.
New software must also make it possible to quickly acquire data (e.g., several Ksamples/s) and store it locally, passing back only parametric data. For example, a node might be embedded in a large machine to monitor vibration levels. Although it can acquire a large amount of raw data, it may need to send only pass/fail information to the host, indicating whether the machine is within acceptable limits.
Node Aggregation. Current node management software works well for networks of 20–30 nodes, but when an organization wants to implement a network consisting of hundreds or thousands of nodes, the setup becomes time-consuming. It is difficult to program each node individually. Unfortunately, current wireless sensor technology cannot easily scale beyond research and small applications.
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