Sensor network tests get real at Wollongong Uni

Motorola has agreed to provide the University of Wollongong with hardware that will bring its theoretical research on wireless sensor networks into the real world.

Motorola has agreed to provide the University of Wollongong with hardware that will bring its theoretical research on wireless sensor networks into the real world.

Professor Eryk Dutkiewicz experiments with Motorola's neuRFon wireless sensor network technology

Credit: University of Wollongong

A wireless sensor network is a group of devices (linked without wires) that work together to detect changes in environmental conditions such as sound, temperature or movement.

Wireless sensing networks can be spread around a factory to measure variables such as heat, buried in the soil of a farm to measure moisture, or used in a mine to track assets or people (for rescue purposes), according to Professor Eryk Dutkiewicz, director of the university's wireless technologies laboratory.

However, there are problems in these networks that need to be overcome, such as sending information between sensors and a control unit, especially in an environment like a factory which is full of obstacles. Another problem is keeping power consumption to a minimum so batteries don't have to be changed frequently.

Despite the university's long term work in the area, it has not been able to test its theoretical research on real life systems, according to Dutkiewicz.

"We don't know how things perform in real life," Dutkiewicz told ZDNet.com.au.

The University will test Motorola's system to see how good the existing technology is. "There's no point solving a problem that doesn't exist," Dutkiewicz said. If problems turn up, the university will propose solutions, such as toying with communications algorithms and routing mechanisms.

Once the system has been tested in the university, the researchers will look for an industrial partner to take the system to its limits in a "difficult environment", such as a steel foundry or a mine.

Motorola will benefit by having long term research conducted on its hardware without having to tie up a research team. "Most companies are very much focused on short term deliverables … it's not like you can expect products out [of this research] in half a year," Dutkiewicz said.

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