Peter G Hartwell predicts that HP's CeNSE will form the next layer on the internet and revolutionize human interaction with the earth as profoundly as the internet has revolutionized personal and business interactions. Promises have been made over the years but not fulfilled to produce far-flung networks of interconnected sensors. These would let us detect rain forest poaching in real-time instead of days, or bridges in need of immediate repair. However moving the concept forward requires progress in several areas.
One obstacle is the availability of wireless networks. These are growing and in time will be global. Connecting them may be the work of cloud computing, but integration is another obstacle. Standards are needed to mesh current and forthcoming networks, and consideration must be included for privacy and security.
Sensor size is another issue. Smart phones have eleven sensors and hybrid cars can't work without them, nor many game controllers and most laptops. The same advances have not occurred for environmental use as shown by a typical human-sized weather station that records temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction, and barometric pressure, and could be done with a nanochip.
Sensitivity is one obstacle that is being overcome. An accelerometer about 1000 times more sensitive than those used in smart phones is now available. Attached to your chest it can sense heart rate, breathing, and speech vibrations. Put it on a water pipe in a house and it senses water flow. Types of flow can tell when a toilet is flushed or dishwasher is run. A bio sensor of this type in a refrigerator could detect food that has changed to a harmful state. Another could be attached to public waste containers to alert maintenance crews as to which containers need attention.
A trillion sensor nodes will soon be in service and by 2025 wireless statistics will include 7 billion people with cell phones and 10 sensors per person. Improved sensors in cars can talk to other cars so changes are more quickly detected and used to protect occupants. Or your car can link to nearby airports and detect airplane arrivals and departures.
The last concern is how to power discreet sensors. Several possible solutions exist, such as scavenging power from nearby sources. Other approaches and concepts exist and only need to be adapted to each situation.
Dr. Peter G. Hartwell is currently a senior researcher at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto, California. As a member of the Information and Quantum Systems Lab, he is the lead of the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) team. He has extensive experience in commercializing silicon MEMS products, working on advanced sensors and actuators, and specializes in MEMS testing techniques.
He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1992 with a B.S.E in Materials Science and Engineering. He then joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California working in electronic packaging. He left JPL in 1993 to attend Cornell University where he received a Ph. D. in Electrical Engineering in 1999. He did brief post doctoral work at HP Labs before joining the staff in 2000. His work at HP has been documented in numerous publications and patents. He joined the IQSL group at HP Labs in 2005.
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