The June 1998 UFTO Report on Oak Ridge National Lab has this brief entry in the section on Instrumentation & Controls:
… “Wireless Sensors: Spread-spectrum technology is being used in conjunction with sensors-on-a-chip to eliminate instrumentation-related wiring in a plant. Sensors can be added or moved as needed. There is a potential for coupling with global positioning system (GPS) technology, so that the sensor can report its exact location, in addition to other measured data. ” …
I recall being intrigued with the idea that sensors could be deployed inexpensively, almost on the spur of the moment, and in as many inaccessible places as you wanted, throughout a power plant or substation — to monitor temperature, noise, vibration or any other parameter. It makes a lot of sense.
The group at Oak Ridge has continued work on the concept, but hasn’t been able to move forward on building actual devices, for lack of funding and external partners. A nice presentation can be found at http://www.ornl.gov/orcmt/wireless.
An acrobat presentation of theirs can be downloaded at:
Independently, a new company, Sensitron, was formed here in Silicon Valley. The founders had come up with the same concept, and they’re pursuing it vigorously. Oak Ridge has indicated they’re more than willing to work with them to turn this into a reality.
Their schedule is ambitious: 3 months to breadboard demo, 12 months to field testing of prototype, 18 months to production, 24 months to integrated 2nd generation design.
One of the principals approached me (at our daughters’ Y-Basketball game!) to explore whether UFTO utilities might be interested in working with them (a good example of how UFTO is always on the lookout!).
Here is their summary. Please let me know if you’re interested.
Or you can contact: Blake Putney, 650-960-5948, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wireless Monitoring Systems to Reduce Utility Maintenance Costs while Increasing Reliability
Recent developments in semiconductor, spread spectrum communications and micro-sensor standards and technology have made it possible to create complete wireless monitoring systems (WMSs) on a single chip the size of a dime. These sensor systems will be capable being cheaply deployed and connected with computer networks. Users will be able quickly deploy these systems to monitor virtually anything anywhere. Our system uses unlicensed communications bands that can be deployed on a site by site basis, without requiring an investment in a wide area cellular communications network. The potential market for these sensors in enormous, from industry, military, hospitals to home applications. The widespread availability of these systems has the potential to impact society in a similar manner as the Internet.
Although the technical feasibility of these systems has been demonstrated, a number of barriers exist for this technology to become a viable business. Existing markets are fragmented, revenue streams from near term applications are insufficient to attract investments from large organizations, and few sensor-oriented companies have the expertise in the technologies necessary to create an integrated product in silicon.
The initial market chosen for the sensors is to monitor conditions of equipment, and locations within electric utilities’ facilities. Deregulation is forcing electric utilities to get the most out of their equipment and staff. Our system will provide a utility the ability to track the health of all their assets remotely and provide the immediate access to information via their computer network. The sensors needed include temperature, vibration, and stress monitors.
This market was chosen because of the simple design requirements for the sensors, high value of these facilities, and the large expense of installing existing instrumentation solutions (up to $1000 per foot of cable). By reducing the cost of connecting a sensor to less than $150 per point, our wireless system will revolutionize maintenance practices at these facilities. The sales potential for WMSs in this market is over $250M at very high margins.
A key aspect of success is to create a complete system that minimizes the needs for components to be developed by third parties. Our system will involve subsystems for the sensor, field deployment and database configuration, and a receiver that collects data and is connected to an Ethernet. For the sensor subsystem, we are creating a modular CMOS chip design including each of the required elements (Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS), Controllers, and R-F). The installation of this system will be simple enough to be deployed directly by end-users.
Sensitron is looking to attract utility partners that are interested in deploying wireless sensors to reduce operations and maintenance costs, while enhancing system reliability. Our utility partners will gain early benefits of deploying the system, and have the opportunity for equity participation in our enterprise.