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Archive for February, 2011

Researchers use Wi-Fi network to monitor melting glaciers

Scientists at two UK universities are planning to use Wi-Fi based network to monitor the flow of glaciers at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

The sensor network consisting of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers and Wi-Fi based relaying nodes will be installed on Helheim Glacier, an important calving glacier in south-east Greenland and will measure changes in the distribution of glacier motion and geometry.

The aim of the project is to improve understanding of how the outlet glaciers at the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, thought to be particularly sensitive to changes in air and ocean temperatures, react to climate change. The processes leading to iceberg formation or ‘calving’ are particularly important because they control mass loss from the ice sheet but are poorly understood.

Detailed observations of iceberg calving events have until now proved elusive due to the difficulty of positioning instrumentation on the heavily-crevassed ice surface and for the reason that sensors would be lost during iceberg calving. To combat this problem, researchers at Swansea and Newcastle Universities have joined forces to create a network of expendable GPS based receivers.

According to Dr Stuart Edwards from Newcastle University’s Geomatics Group and a graduate of Swansea University, software they have developed in Newcastle will allow the GNSS receivers to provide measurements accurate to a few centimetres.

According to Professor Tim O’Farrell from Swansea University’s College of Engineering, these sensors will be connected to each other and to a base station via a network of expendable, low-power wireless transceivers and deployed on the Helheim Glacier. A proportion of the network’s nodes are expected to be lost during each calving event. However, the novel ‘self-organizing” design of the network ensures that data can still be collected from the nodes that remain operational.

The innovative nature of the network and its components make it economically and logistically possible to deploy a large number of sensors by a helicopter in the heavily crevassed calving region of the glacier.

In addition, the use of wireless networks in an extreme environment will assist in the development of the next generation of wireless networks such as mobile phone networks.

The research project will be undertaken during two summer field seasons in 2012 and 2013.

More info here.


Two PhD Positions Available in Trento, Italy

Applications are invited from those interested in pursuing a PhD in wireless sensor networks (WSNs) in Trento, Italy within the D3S group.  Two positions are currently available. D3S is a cross-institution group of researchers from both the University of Trento and the nearby FBK-IRST research center, whose projects are characterised by theoretical backing and practical applicability.

Trento is a vibrant city with a beautifully preserved historic center, consistently ranked at the top for quality of life in Italy.  It offers a variety of cultural and sports opportunities all year around, as well as excellent food and wine.

Applications must be filed online before 13h00 CET, 16 March 2011. More information about this exciting opportunity available here.

Networked Embedded Systems: Humans in the Loop

The Cooperating Objects Network of Excellence (CONET) is organising another Summer School this year. Like the 2009 edition, the school goes back to Bertinoro International Center for Informatics (BiCi), (Forlì-Cesena), Italy and will be held on 24 – 30 July, 2011.

Sensor networks, cyber-physical systems, and cooperating objects are becoming an important part of our daily life. Humans build, deploy, use, and maintain these systems that can sense our activities and influence our behaviour. We will increasingly rely on these networked embedded systems, therefore also requiring a secure and privacy-preserving treatment of sensitive human-centric data. Novel paradigms and solutions are also needed to allow humans to interact with these systems.

The goal of the summer school is to survey fundamental and applied aspects of networked embedded systems and their relationship to humans, as well as to identify novel opportunities and research directions in these areas through a series of lectures by international experts. Participants will also experience the relevant technologies during hands-on courses and be given a chance to present their own work during a participants’ workshop. The school will provide a great opportunity to know other people working in the field, to meet distinguished scholars, and to establish contacts that may lead to research collaborations in the future. We expect about 60 participants. The intended audience are postgraduate students, PhD students, and young researchers from universities and industrial laboratories around the world.

More information available here.

Researchers unveil first mm-scale computing system

University of Michigan computer scientists and engineers are at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco today presenting papers on two systems: a prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients and a compact radio for wireless sensor networks.

What makes their presentation so remarkable is that both systems involve what is believed to be the first complete millimeter-scale computing system.

The near-invisible package is just over 1 cubic millimeter in size and includes an ultra-low-power microprocessor, a thin-film battery, a solar cell, memory, a pressure sensor, and a wireless radio with an antenna.

“Millimeter-scale systems…have a host of new applications for monitoring our bodies, our environment, and our buildings,” said Professor David Blaauw in a news release. “Because they’re so small, you could manufacture hundreds of thousands on one wafer. There could be 10s to 100s of them per person, and it’s this per capita increase that fuels the semiconductor industry’s growth.”

The team points to Bell’s Law, formulated by computer engineer Gordon Bell in 1972, which says that a new class of smaller and cheaper computers is developed roughly every decade. This is considered to be a partial corollary to Moore’s Law, established in 1970 and named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore (first names coincidental), which describes the now 50-plus-year trend that the number of transistors able to be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years.

The new system out of Michigan is being hailed as the first in a new class of millimeter-scale computing, and while the researchers are specifically targeting the medical side of body sensor networks, other potential applications include tracking such things as pollution, weapons, structural integrity, and more.

The eye pressure monitor is designed not only for direct implantation but also continuous tracking of glaucoma, a disease that can lead to blindness. It incorporates the team’s third-gen Phoenix Processor, which combines an extreme sleep mode and a unique power-gating system for ultra-low-power usage (averaging 5.3 nanowatts).

The system wakes every 15 minutes to take measurements and relies on 10 hours of indoor light or 1.5 hours of sunlight every day for full battery recharging. The team says the device could be commercially available in the next several years.

The researchers are also working on a radio with an on-chip antenna using an advanced complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) process that allows them to control the antenna’s shape and size, and thus its response to electrical signals. Because of this control, they can do away with the bulky external crystals that keep time and select radio frequency bands for communication between two isolated devices, thereby drastically reducing the size of the radio system.

The university hopes to patent these tiny-yet-huge developments, and is looking for commercial partners to help bring the tech to market.

More info here.

Body network spars with Bluetooth

An emerging body area network (BAN) technology is gearing up to compete with Bluetooth Low Energy across a broad range of medical and consumer applications. The competition comes as medical devices are increasingly adopting a growing set of wireless network technologies including Wi-Fi and Zigbee.

Backers of the IEEE 802.15.6 effort say the standard could be completed this year and products based on it could ship in 2012. The specification promises a range of implementations roughly on par with Bluetooth bandwidth and range but at much lower power consumption and less interference.

GE aims to use the technology in a broad range of hospital patient monitors. Since 2008, it has lobbied the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to open up spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band for such devices, replacing today’s expensive and cumbersome wired links.

More info here.

Japan company developing sensors for seniors

Japan’s top telecoms company is developing a simple wristwatch-like device to monitor the well-being of the elderly, part of a growing effort to improve care of the old in a nation whose population is aging faster than anywhere else.

The device, worn like a watch, has a built-in camera, microphone and, which measure the pace and direction of hand movements to discern what wearers are doing – from brushing their teeth to vacuuming or making coffee.

In a demonstration at  Corp.’s research facility, the test subject’s movements were collected as data that popped up as lines on a graph – with each kind of activity showing up as different patterns of lines. Using this technology, what an elderly person is doing during each hour of the day can be shown on a chart.

The prototype was connected to a personal computer for the demonstration, but researchers said such data could also be relayed by wireless or stored in a memory card to be looked at later.

Plans for commercial use are still undecided. But similar sensors are being tested around the world as tools for elderly care.

In the U.S., the Institute on Aging at the University of Virginia has been carrying out studies in practical applications of what it calls “body area” to promote senior independent living.

What’s important is that wearable sensors be easy to use, unobtrusive, ergonomic and even stylish, according to the institute, based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Costs, safety and  are also key.

More info here.


openAlerts is free, open source software to remotely monitor and control sensors over IP networks. With openAlerts you can configure, control and monitor sensors from a web browser, receive e-mail and text message alerts, and trigger control commands based on sensor conditions.

Just about any operation that monitors and controls something can benefit from openAlerts. Telematics, health-care, utilities, security, automation, industrial control, transportation, agriculture – these are only a few examples where openAlerts can be used.

openAlerts is about connecting systems, devices and people. Unfortunately, smart sensing and control technologies are complex, and proprietary solutions are expensive. openAlerts is designed to reduce the complexities and lower the cost. Simplification is the key.

More info here.