Governments and policy makers globally are realising the potential benefits of encouraging the growth in sensor technology. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s Technology Foresight, meet regularly to examine potential opportunities to promote wealth creation and enhance quality. This forum identified sensor technology as an integral element in the overall development of products and services. In fact it emerged as the key technology supporting a wide variety of research and industrial applications.
Sensor technology is a key in the seamless integration of systems. Any technology system requires an input to trigger a process; intelligent wireless sensor technology does not only provide this input automatically but also sense the important environmental aspects and in doing so triggers the appropriate system processes.
Science fiction is always an indication of where technological development is going. Start Wars was released in 1977 and at that stage it stretched the imagination of most people. What was far-fetched then is a possibility today. During the late 1990’s I attended a book launch at one of the big advertising agencies for a book called “Next”. The book was all about the trends in the advertising industry but what I remember is that the book predicted seamless integration between the individual and its world. Bill boards will sense your presence and will display advertisements based on your demographics. Should you be travelling with your family, combined demographics will be used to determine what would be the most appropriate information to display. If correctly targeted advertising becomes relevant information that is non-invasive. What was far-fetched then is possible today.
Although it is possible to implement what we have seen in science fiction over the last decades, something is still missing. A logical deduction could be that the inability of the various technologies to detect or sense according to a universal standard still makes technology fragmented and dependant on human intervention. Even though technology is used in everything around us, it has not yet been integrated into a seamless solution. We carry electronic vehicles keys, remote controls to gates and garage doors, we type codes into keypads, we have chipped bank cards, ID cards for access control, loyalty cards, USB devices to do banking and many more. Almost everything in our world is controlled by a different device or some form of intervention.
The main reason why every technology uses a different device is because the user needs to identify them to the technology and provide the technology with some input and up to now there has been no single identification method that could work universally. As a result people are used to a bunch of keys with a couple of remote controls, a wallet full of cards, passwords and pin codes, and the other devices that we interact with.
But is it really possible to do away with all of this? The answer is YES! Imagine a unique identification that is accessible to all technologies combined with an improved ability to sense relevant environmental attributes. Such a combination could give us the ability to seamlessly integrate and automate much more than what we do today.
To understand how it is possible we need to explore intelligent sensing technology.
The human body is a good example of how intelligent sensing technology works. We are familiar with five standard senses but in reality there is a network of sensors throughout the body. These micro sensors on a cellular level know how to respond when triggered to maintain a natural balance. Think about the enzyme produced in the liver to cope with whatever humans consume. The eyes have sensors that detect light and sensors that detect the three primary colours. The ear has sensors that enable you to hear as well as sensors that detect your orientation in the gravitational field and that give you a sense of balance. In your muscles and joints, there are sensors that tell you where the different parts of your body are and about the motion and tension of the muscles. These senses let us; for example, touch our index fingers together with our eyes shut. Hunger and thirst can be said to be monitored by sensors too.
In our environment an electronic sensor is a device, which responds to an input quantity, just like human cells, by generating a functionally related output usually in the form of an electrical or optical signal. These signals are then used to provide the inputs to technology that would have otherwise have been manual. During the past two decades, there has been an unprecedented growth in the number of products and services, which utilise information gained from different types of sensors. The development of sensors to meet this need is referred to as sensor technology and is applicable in a very broad domain including the environment, medicine, commerce and industry.
A practical example to demonstrate this; is to look at the systems present in an office block. Every single office block has the following systems operational in some way. The systems although often very primitive is related to building automation or energy management, access control and security, time and attendance, asset management or stock control, office automation and many more.
Imagine every person working in the building had a wireless identification that could be verified on entry through some form of biometrics. From that point on all the systems could respond to the presence of the person without any further intervention. By using a single wireless identification method and environmental sensing technology the systems can be seamlessly integrated. The individual’s journey via the basement elevator can be scheduled on entry into the basement parking, the air-conditioning system in the persons office can be switched on according to personal preference taking the outside temperature into account. The sensor in the persons pocket could also sense body temperature that could be a further input. The person will only be able to enter and exit the building with computer equipment that has been allocated to them. The access control and time and attendance systems will automatically be updated as the person approaches an entrance. The security systems will stay activated but ignore people with valid identification as they walk through the building. Should they try to access unauthorised areas the system will either block access or notify the relevant people. The lights will switch on as the person walks through the building and switch off as they leave. The business systems will automatically know who is accessing the systems and allow access. When the individual leaves his or her desk the computer will automatically lock and unlock on return. When entering a meeting room the computer could automatically log me on and load the presentation linked to the calendar booking. Personal selections can be made by tapping my sensor when asked. The meeting could be recorded and automatically sent to attendees selected via the sensor to receive the recording.
If you at this point wonder how to protect your identity when you do not want to use the functionality, you always have the ability to temporarily disable your sensor. Also remember that you decide who you provide your information too. Without providing access to your own information the sensor will just provide a number when detected. With some development in progress identification sensors will automatically sense whether the sensor is used by its rightful owner and potentially limit the need for separate biometric verification.
The same identification can be used; to transact within multiple retail stores, for banking, to gain access to your local gym and to monitor your progress, to unlock your vehicle, open your garage door and house etc.
WiST SA recently launched a new range of sensing products that can make most of the above possible. Broadly speaking WiST provides two types of sensors. The first will detect changes in the status quo, and the second will provide exact measurement. The sensor has a level of intelligence and communicates on predefined intervals to notify the WiST updater/reader that it is still present but when any change in the status quo occurs the sensor will immediately send an alert. Although alerts triggered on an exception is a key component of the WiST value proposition, the data collected on an ongoing basis cannot be under estimated. Analysis of this data will provide key business insights.
Sensor data is either used by local systems or is transmitted to a secure database on the internet depending on the application. In the last case the WiST rule based management system responds to alerts from every sensor according to predefined rules. The rules can be as simple as to notify the owner via SMS.
Standard WiST sensors can be packaged to suit the client’s application in short and long range. The sensor can be packaged in a credit/ access card for financial and access control applications. The sensor can be packaged in wall mountable housings for security sensing purposes, flat figure eight enclosures for asset tracking and more robust and water proof enclosures for industrial applications. Sensors can also be moulded into plastic containers and crates.
Updaters are not merely the device that transmits the data to the relevant system or database. These devices have a very important role and provide another level of intelligence.
The entry level WiST Updater could either be used as a PC USB updater that uses the PC’s infrastructure to transmit data to the database or could be integrated in any other device that could use or transmit the sensor data. This updater is a powerful reliable low cost option.
The WiST mobile Updater is a small GSM/GPS/3G updater which is ideal to track high value movable assets such as vehicles and containers etc.
WiST static updaters can also be installed on client networks. In this case the updater is typically wall mounted and either linked to the clients wireless or fixed cable network infrastructure.
Sensors can be used to provide input to a local system or updated to the WiST high speed secure database from where it will be switched to the appropriate destination? Should the WiST Identity sensor or any of the items tagged with a WiST sensor be stolen the sensor can be marked as stolen on this database. Should any other updater locate any stolen sensor or item anywhere in the world it will immediately report on its whereabouts and inform the relevant parties.
WiST has a myriad of applications and as clients understand the capability of WiST the installation typically grows as clients identify more uses. Below are examples of sensors:
Identity Sensors: WiST identity sensors have a unique ID plus one or more senses. The WiSTâ„¢ identity sensor is typically fitted with a magnetic switch but the main purpose of the sensor is to provide ONE unique identification code for financial and loyalty transactions across banks, retailers, insurance companies and access control in the work place and at home. The sensor can trigger energy saving devices and be your unique ID that protects your data on your computer. Identity sensors can also be used for asset management if it is not important to track movement.
WiST South Africa and its Centre of Excellence Partners have various software applications available to use with WiST. The sensor data can also be integrated into any other business application depending on the client requirements.
WiST brings control back in a hectic world. WiST tracks, protects, secures and streamlines your business assets
Sensors will progressively become part of modern life. In nature and in the human body there is an invisible network of sensors at work that maintain a natural balance through continues fine tuning and adjustment. Networks of sensors can monitor and manage everything around us in a similar precise and economical way. Just think about it: