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Sensor telemetry is getting a tryout at consulting firm Accenture's R&D arm, which is working on ways to "embed intelligence in common objects"--combining sensor and RFID technologies to gather information.
Pictured here is the control display of a freight-tracking system that can be used to manage the movement of railway cars, their whereabouts and the status of their cargo.
"Some companies take ownership of the cargo. If you don't deliver expensive cars on time, you lose money," said Robert Hasson, business development leader for communications at Accenture, "but if it's fish getting old, you have a bigger problem."
Not just a toy for children, these trains have RFID tags in each carriage that send signals to "reading points." A mesh network based on the ZigBee wireless specification handles communications between the wagons so that the cargo can be monitored. Sensors that monitor the status of the cargo can be embedded on the Zigbee board.
"If you are transporting sensitive materials, you can monitor the temperature," Hasson said. "Some plastics tend to fuse at a certain temperature and cannot be melted again. That can be catastrophic," he added.
For a chemical company client, Accenture used satellite communications with a network of cars, solar-powered communications devices and temperature probes.
A ZigBee experiment to monitor the health of a vineyard, called Pickberry, combines data from sensors to measure soil moisture (left) and temperature, leaf moisture (center), air temperature and rainfall (right). The leaf moisture sensor mimics drainage patterns by letting water flow through a series of small channels on its face.
Accenture is also researching how emerging technologies change the ways customers deal with banks. "One use of the technology is to put passive RFID tags into loyalty cards," said Emmanuel Viale, senior manager at Accenture Labs. "One very intrusive use is to track people to know when they come into a branch, know what they're doing and push (advertisements) to them on screen." Passive tags could also be embedded in brochures that would send out a message when picked up.
This pen and paper have electronics to digitize information while the pen is used. The paper is covered in small dots so that software can differentiate particular fields.
"The pen is scanned automatically when it's put in the holder," Viale said. "The technology relies on handwriting recognition that isn't 100 percent accurate--maybe 95 percent--so a person still needs to check if the data is correct."