The design challenges of a trillion sensor world

The care and feeding of sensors have always been an integral part of an embedded systems developer’s life, regardless of the market segment. Whether it is a motor controller in a factory, a gear in an automobile door or in the engine, the electric motor in a household appliance, or the sensor in a MEMS device or in the touch display of a mobile phone, the developer’s job is the same: manage, monitor, and program the operations of the microcontroller being used, based on the information received from the environment via measurement sensors.

But as embedded applications have become more connected – first with proprietary wired networks, then Ethernet and the Internet, and now via the variety of wireless IoT networks – that task has become even more challenging, both in scale and in kind.

Companies such as General Electric and Cisco Systems are estimating that by the end of this decade at least a trillion sensors will be deployed to build a pervasive Internet of Things, representing a market of about $15 trillion by 2020. While many of the parameters that an embedded developer needs to be concerned with such as deterministic and real time operation, may not change, what has been altered drastically is the environment in which such systems will be deployed.

Collected inthis week's Tech Focus newsletter are a number of recent design articles and technical papers related to these challenges and how developers are dealing with them. Of these my Editor's Top Picks are:

Digital Fingerprints for Low-Cost Platforms using MEMS sensors
A method to uniquely identify a MEMS sensor and its location by creating a digital fingerprint based on various process parameters, including the accelerometer response to an applied electrostatic impulse.

Design of a wearable multi-sensor measurement platform
The design of an ARM DSP controller-based multi-sensor measurement platform for use in a variety of medical, research, and recreational applications

Design of XMPP on IPv6-based Wireless Sensor Networks
Extending XMPP to wireless sensor networks based in IPv6, using a lightweight client protocol software optimized for sensor nodes with UDP rather than TCP/IP.

Wireless Sensor Network for Indoor Air Quality Monitoring
Design of an STM32-based indoor wireless sensor network for indoor air quality monitoring, in which an SPI bus is used in the sensor modules as the main mechanism for transmitting readings back to the main processor and then to a server.

For more up-to-date information sensor design and deployment and the challenges with which you may be faced, there several meetings coming up in the next four weeks or so that are worth attending.

One is the Trillion Sensor (TSensors) Summit to be held in two weeks in Munich, Germany, followed by similar conclaves Nov. 12 – 13 in La Jolla, Ca. and December 8 – 9 in Tokyo, Japan. The meetings have been organized by a consortium of companies, including Fairchild Semiconductor, to develop a road map of strategies to develop and fund the software and hardware technologies that will be needed to handle a trillion sensors.

Two weeks later, a more hands-on venue about how sensors will have to be designed and deployed is UBM Tech's Designers of Things Conference , Sept. 23- 24, where there will be about two dozen wearable Internet of Things classes, workshops, and panels. on various aspects of sensor design in consumer electronics.

And about a month from now, there will be UBM Tech's 2014 ARM Technical Conference in Santa Clara, Ca., where there will be classes and hands-on sessions related to sensor applications, including:

Interfacing With Sensors Using Open Sensor Platform (OSP). Kevin Shaw and Jim Steele of Sensor Platforms will guide developers through the basics of OSP and how to use it to provide an abstraction framework for the deployment of sensor fusion hubs for ARM architecture-based solutions in mobile computing, wearables, and IoT.

What's Next For Sensor Hubs: Mobile, Wearables and Beyond .Dave Karline of Hillcrest will outline the ways in which the ARM architecture can be used to create sensor hubs for mobile and wearables devices with pedestrian navigation, improved context awareness, intuitive gesture controls, and more.

Wireless Sensor Contextual Computing. James Wenzel of Spansion will teach a class on the key considerations for useable wireless sensor systems and the available design tools. The class will include a variety of applications with examples and demonstrations of 802.15.4 standard running ZigBee protocols, wireless LED lighting, and energy harvesting.

Whether or not you believe the optimistic claims for potential market size for the Internet of Things and its impact on our lives, the ubiquitous connectivity of such things as wireless sensor and machine-to-machine networks is already profoundly changing all aspects of embedded design.

I would like to hear from you about your ideas and the directions you are taking in your designs. In addition to communicating with me directly by email about your ideas, give me a call (I am still a great believer in one of the most effective social networking tools there is – direct person to person voice conversations) . I am also planning to attend ARM Techcon; if you’re going to be there, let me know and we can meet to talk about your ideas.

4 thoughts on “The design challenges of a trillion sensor world

  1. “A trillion sensors… Over a hundred for every person in the world… All online?nnConsidering that most people survive on less than $5/day and don't have money for this stuff, that leaves about 1/10th the population who will acttually use any of this

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  2. “It makes perfect sense if you take the time to find out how many sensors you have in your possession today. These sensors make their way into and hide inside our cell phones, tablet PC, cars, home to name a few places.n nBy the end of this decade you

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  3. “I agree with GandhiP about the possible numbers. I do not necessarily agree with the projections of trillion sensor enthusiasts, the number of sensors that will be deployed will be far in excess what the skeptics expect, especially in world outside Europe

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