WDD readers identify the key obstacles and application trends for wireless sensor networks.
When it comes to new applications and overall potential for a given technology, not much rivals the integration of wireless sensor networks (WSN). Reader feedback regarding new WSN applications, trends, and obstacles essentially provided a snapshot of the wireless design marketplace as a whole, regardless of the topic and technology, with designers working to balance performance with cost and time-to-market demands for a wide range of industries.
Greatest Demand for WSN
When asked about where the greatest demand for WSN existed, respondents offered the following insight:
- 25 percent felt it was the industrial marketplace.
- 21 percent cited remote monitoring applications.
- 17 percent said medical products.
- 13 percent identified security.
- 12 percent felt the transportation market showed the greatest need.
- Eight percent said military applications.
These results were not surprising, given the amount of data, the speed at which it must transfer, and the accuracy that is necessary when implementing wireless networks in industrial settings. While remote monitoring can include a number of markets, leading application fields are connected to processing and manufacturing, which obviously ties closely to industrial applications.
In examining the leading applications of WSNs, it’s interesting to note that they buck the trend of many other technologies in that military/aerospace and medical products were not mentioned as prominently. Although respondents were relegated to selecting only one answer, the total percentages for these two categories were somewhat lower than expected.
Challenges with Integrating WSN
When asked about the challenges they face when integrating WSN, Wireless Design & Development (WDD) readers cited some common and unique obstacles:
- Power consumption: 48 percent.
- Area layout/environmental factors: 37 percent.
- Cost controls: 36 percent.
- Fault tolerance: 32 percent.
- Hardware constraints: 25 percent.
- Scalability: 20 percent.
- Network security was prominently mentioned as a write-in response.
As a subset of smart energy usage and cost controls, power consumption continues to dominate product engineering on all levels. More efficient power consumption not only eliminates the unnecessary and often harmful heat that is generated as a byproduct, but the additional components needed to help manage that heat.
These efforts all lead to improved cost savings and a smaller design footprint, which ties into the second most commonly cited obstacle – area layout and environmental factors. Scalability is also impacted when working to optimize the true capabilities of WSNs without driving up costs.
When looking at the most significant design challenges presented by WSN, readers identified many of the usual suspects: (1) cost, (2) energy efficiency/sustainability, (3) security and (4) time-to-market. The first two have been previously discussed, and security concerns will be addressed in greater detail shortly, which leaves time-to-market concerns open to further explanation.
The pace of technological advancements related to WSNs leaves design engineers with a couple of unique obstacles. First, they must get these products and systems in place before they become antiquated, as the technology continues to progress rapidly. Second, because of the rapid succession in product development, considerations must be made during design and implementation to accommodate future upgrades.
WDD readers were also asked open-ended questions related to the trends they felt would most dramatically impact WSN in the future. Their individual responses, and the prominence in which they were mentioned, follow.
1. Security was identified as the most prominent trend impacting WSNs. Reader comments included:
- “Security always takes a back seat to cost, and developers are often arrogant and uninformed as to the risks and know-how of security.”
- “Keeping out unauthorized access is always a priority.”
- “Medical information security has never been more important.”
- “Proprietary information has to be protected.”
- “Faster data rates with more efficient transfers and new standards make data security of prime importance.”
Specifically, the most prominent security issues mentioned by WDD readers included:
- Eliminating signal interference..
- Ensuring proper data encryption measures are taken.
- Preventing hackers from disabling sensors in order to gain access to the network.
- Establishing controls that provide easy access for intended users without interfering with other independent networks.
- The lack of standards related to wireless sensor networks as a whole.
- Ensuring proper security while utilizing WSNs over the larger areas customers demand.
2. Power consumption was also a leading trend:
- “Many locations don’t have easy access to power.”
- “WSNs need to be able to operate autonomously for long periods in order to be cost effective.”
- “A number of these devices will be battery powered, so battery life will be a key factor.”
- “Range is proportional to the power available, but operational longevity is reduced with higher power drain.”
3. Wireless communication standards were also identified:
- “More equipment and devices means standards need to evolve, which makes compatibility between new and older equipment critical.”
- “A new standard is needed for low-cost, low-bandwidth, low-power mesh networks.”
- “Too many standards have begun fragmenting the market.”
- “There is too much variance between manufacturers.”
4. Finally, respondents also identified data transfer speeds as a key trend impacting WSNs:
- “Bandwidth is still limited in some applications.”
- “Faster speeds mean more data can be streamed wirelessly to workstations and servers for data collection and monitoring.”
- “Data rates need to match performance expectations for military and industrial applications.”
- “I need real-time networks in industrial settings for greater efficiency, and for wireless devices I need to reduce latency.”
- “Larger demand for larger data exchanges will bog down devices and networks unless speeds are increased.”