Sensors Mag

One of Wireless Networks' Rising Stars

May 25, 2006 By: Tom Kevan

E-mail Tom Kevan

I am in awe of the conceptual leaps forward made by those who develop new networking technologies. These people tolerate no limitations to their imaginations. My feelings were only reinforced when I read about Motorola's neuRFon network.

When the Physical World Meets the Online World

Motorola recognized that computation power and computer networks have grown increasingly sophisticated, but that the physical and online worlds remain largely isolated from one another. So in 1999, a group of Motorola researchers conceived of a project based on "the vision of wirelessly connecting trillions of 'things,' enabling them to communicate with each other automatically and autonomously." The interconnected things could be complex machines or inert items, such as ceiling tiles with sensors to regulate temperature. The nodes used to connect these things would not be very complex, but they could independently act and react with their environment without outside direction or human intervention.

Mimicking the Human Body

As with so many other technologies that have been developed by man, the design and functionality of the neuRFon network borrows heavily from examples in nature. Motorola's researchers believed that if the Internet could be described as being like the human central nervous system, the missing ingredient would be the equivalent of the neuron, which can sense and process a small amount of information and independently act on it. The researchers determined that if they could duplicate this ingredient, they could realize their vision of enabling an environment in which devices could talk to other devices. They believed if they could wirelessly connect devices using low-power RF transceivers, it would be possible for devices to form their own networks to communicate while conserving bandwidth and energy. Their relationships would look "more like an ant colony than our current vision of interconnected high-functioning computers."

An Architecture of Multiple Layers

The neuRFon network consists of multiple layers. The highest layer of the network is the network operations center (NOC), which manages communications among multiple sites with installed networks. In the next layer, the site manager coordinates the workings of multiple personal area networks (PANs) within a site. The PAN acts as a bridge to other networks, including the Internet. The PAN can communicate with the Internet through a wired or wireless TCP/IP connection. In the lowest layer of the network, a full function device acts as a router, passing information from device to device. It can also be attached to an object of interest and be used in sensing and control applications.

I realize this is a bare-bones description of a complex technology. It is meant as an introduction to a technology that certainly deserves more examination.

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