“The Internet is disappearing.” Eric Schmidt predicted this at the end of a panel webcast from the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 2015. While the statement courts controversy, the former Google executive was merely pointing to the natural lifecycle of technology. As technologies mature they also dissipate and dissolve into the environment. The internet will become so ubiquitous people will hardly notice its presence. From smartphones to kitchen appliances, to health monitoring devices, to road signs and traffic lights – the internet continuously seeps into various aspects of people’s lives. With the emergence of wireless sensor networks interacting with the internet of things (IoT) and the web, we are therefore seeing a future built upon the principles of industrial revolution 4.0. Fundamentally, we are at the dawn of a hyper-connected era.
What Are Wireless Sensor Networks?
Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) are infrastructure-less, self-configuring and adaptive wireless networks. They monitor physical or environmental conditions. The use of wireless sensor networks harks back in the 1950s when the United States military developed the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) to detect Soviet submarines. Currently, wireless sensor networks have found its way to a host of other applications. Wireless sensor networks have nodes, a network of sensors and a base station. In monitoring an environment, notes gather data such as temperature, sound, vibration, pressure, motion or pollutants and pass through a network of sensors. Sink or base stations aggregate, observe and analyze data from sensor networks.
Wireless sensor networks are classified based on their structure. You call wireless sensor networks where a single base station sends and receives messages from remote nodes a star network. A mesh network, on the other hand, can send and receive a signal from another node within the transmission range.
With the developments around wireless sensor networks in recent years, the use of this technology has branched to other industries. These industries include communications, health, transportation, and agriculture.
The divergence of wireless sensor networks in other fields has paved the way for exciting concepts such as City Labs, Smart Homes, Machine-to-Machine Communications (M2M), and Device-to-Device (D2D) interactions. With the power of the internet combined with the potentials of wireless sensor networks, it is clear that the industrial revolution 4.0 is upon us.
The Rise of Wireless Sensor Networks across Industries
Seventy-five billion devices are predicted to connect to the internet by the year 2025 and as of this year, a person connects up to six devices on the internet. Moreover, they gather enormous date through shopping habits, to eating patterns, down to a person’s wellness and exercise routines. With numbers as massive as these figures, this level of connectivity is a gold mine waiting to be utilized. A number of companies are staying ahead of the game by tapping the power of the internet and harnessing the potentials of wireless sensor networks.
Fifth Generation Cellular Technology or 5G is the latest contribution of the communications domain in the Industrial Revolution 4.0. As industries participate in a highly-digital and hyper-connected value-creation chain, an infrastructure that supports faster mobile connection is crucial. While the United States, China, and Japan are racing to roll out their own 5G services, South Korea launched a country-wide 5G services in April 2019 with Samsung Electronics. In the US, AT&T is providing mobile 5G to a few business and select cities; Verizon Wireless mobile 5G will be available early April; while T-Mobile eyes a country-wide coverage by the year 2020.
Wireless sensor networks are revolutionizing the healthcare industry in ways that benefit both the patient and medical providers. Wearable and wireless devices allow efficient and continuous medical monitoring. Wireless sensor networks don’t limit patient’s movements thereby improving their quality of life. Similarly, medical providers can execute data gathering, facilitate inter-departmental communication, and dispatch emergency care more efficiently. Wearables like Footlogger and HealBe and the growing number of smart hospitals across the globe is the health industry’s response to the Industrial Revolution 4.0.
Smart roads and infrastructure, self-driving and environment-connected vehicles, and people-centric integrated transportation applications are just a few innovations in the transportation industry built upon the technology of wireless sensor networks. For instance, the state of Colorado is pilot-testing Integrated Roadway’s Smart Pavement™ system within Denver’s highway network. Likewise, autonomous vehicles like Aptiv, Aurora, and Drive.ai have been plying the roads of major cities in the US.
The key to sustainable food production lies in the thoughtful and purposeful use of technology. Innovations such as moisture sensors, smart irrigation, drones, self-driving, and GPS-enabled tractors have helped farmers in recent years. For instance, AgTech startup Understory makes weather sensors that gather local weather data to help farmers manage crop production. Furthermore, monitoring of water budgets is now possible. With SWIIM (Sustainable Water and Innovative Irrigation) – an on-farm water accounting system, farmers can now efficiently manage, budget, and allocate water resources.
Wireless sensor networks were initially developed for military purposes. Thankfully, the system has evolved and now being utilized for peaceful and beneficial ways. In the midst of the industrial revolution 4.0, wireless sensor networks correspond to the needs of various industries. The scalability, flexibility, and economic viability of wireless sensor networks pave the way for a smart and hyper-connected future.