A Nanotech Small World

Many Interesting Ideas Are Out There Waiting for Promotion and Funding. We'll Be Watching, Updating and Reporting on Wireless-Based Developments

By Ian Verhappen

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We're all aware that the electronics world is continuing to get smaller, with more circuits per chip, smaller dimensions, greater capabilities and less power. And, these expectations continue, with nanotechnology as the Holy Grail, making more miniaturization possible. However, unless smaller solutions can be applied, society will not benefit.

As Walt Boyes posted in his "SoundOff!" blog on May 30, two companies are using "crowd funding" to develop some innovative products, which are moving us closer to the dust size sensors envisioned by Dust Networks when it started, hence, the name.

The two products Boyes covers are "WiMoto Motes" to monitor your world, and the medical device "Scanadu Scout," an application very close to Star Trek's tricorder.

Scanadu Scout can measure your heart rate, core body temperature, blood oxygen level or saturation, respiratory rate, blood pressure, ECG and emotional stress by pressing it to your forehead for 10 seconds. It then communicates the results to your Bluetooth-enabled smart phone. Recharging is via a mini-USB port. I'm confident that, once commercialized, Scanadu's next step will be to measure blood sugar, which will be a boon to all diabetics.

The four versions of the WiMoto Motes are the Climote, which provides temperature, humidity and light information; Growmote, which measures available light, soil temperature and the amount of water available in the soil surrounding the roots of a plant; infrared emissivity-measuring Thermote; and Securimote, which has a passive infrared motion sensor that detects human movement up to 5 m (16 ft) away, and an onboard accelerometer to detect if the person has moved. Motes run on a coin cell battery for one year and have a 15- minute update rate stored on board for up to a week. Communication is again via Bluetooth or a soon-to-be launched WiFi cloud service.

Though the motes are closer in application to the industrial sector than the Scanadu Scout, the target market for both products will be the commercial sector. It appears that the Motes are rugged enough for most generalpurpose environments, which means that we should be able to apply them in the industrial sector at relatively low cost.
The industrial sector has not been idle either in finding innovative uses for wireless. Obtaining real-time bearing operation information is one example of using wireless technology to enable measurements previously unavailable.

SKF announced at Hannover Fair its Insight product that enables the self-powered device to measure RPM, temperature, velocity, vibration and load wirelessly via a mesh network connected to sensors mounted directly within the bearing housing (http://tinyurl.com/o6luw8n).

The recent ISA Communications Division Symposium and third annual Passive Wireless Sensors workshop identified several key uses for passive wireless sensors in a wide range of industries. Presentations from all these events are accessible from the division's website.

As we have seen, innovators working on wireless applications are everywhere. My friend, Rudy Boonstra (http://www.reng.ca/), has made me a controller based on a Raspberry PI device for my lawn sprinklers, which I set via Google Calendar. The next step is to incorporate logic from some Moto wireless moisture sensors to override the calendar, if we have a rainy spell and watering isn't necessary. Boonstra also makes the "Web Transmitter" that enables those in the open power markets to connect to the web-published System Marginal Price for power to your control system as an analog input.

Many other interesting ideas are out there waiting for promotion and funding. We'll be watching, updating and reporting on wireless-based developments in this column and in the "Great Kanduski" blog, so please share any you know about. The limit is our imagination.

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