Sensornets Go Off-the-Shelf

February 7, 2008

ISI has begun a collaboration with the UCLA-based Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) aimed at putting a long-esoteric technology -- networked sensors -- into the hands of a wide spectrum of non-specialist new users.

"Sensorkit allows anyone with a laptop and wireless network access to build an off-the-shelf 32-unit environmental monitoring system," said Terry Benzel, an ISI project leader who, together with ISI computer networks division director John Wroclawski, participated in the ISI side of the development process, working with counterparts at CENS.

"We envision a community of developers and users forming around SensorKit to expand the range of compatible sensors, include tools to help optimize their deployment in the field, and enhance the quality of the data returned," said Jeffrey Goldman, who is coordinating the effort for CENS.

While the system is still in the Beta, or development phase, the technology is robust, say the researchers:

"Our philosophy was 'Simplicity through Sophistication,'" said Wroclawski. "We've tried to make the prospect of using an environmental sensor network as simple and intuitive as possible. But underneath the user-level simplicity is a powerful and effective end-to-end system."

The result is a turn-key system that can be quickly used by researchers studying questions of pollution, water quality, drought and other conditions affecting an area.

"Sensorkit makes it possible for anyone anywhere to collect information such as variables like sunlight, soil moisture, and all weather variables in a particular geographical area," adds Benzel.

Other ISI contributors to the project include Fabio Silva, Annette Deschon, and Spundun Bhatt. CENS Sensorkit developers include, in addition to Goldman, William Kaiser, Yeung Lam, Eric Graham, Phil Rundel, and Thanos Stathopoulos

Future applications of sensorkit include more sophisticated water resource and structural monitoring. Other potential Sensorkit users include park administrators and even farmers and landscapers.

Features of the network include (according to the Sensorkit website):

&bull Simple instructions and interfaces
&bull Controlled collection rates, intervals, and output units
&bull Data storage in a powerful online repository
&bull Adaptive sampling based on measured values
&bull Wired or wireless communication between sensor nodes and controlling computer
&bull Compatible with advanced sensors such as cameras
&bull Expandable architecture for more sites and sensors
&bull Optional battery or solar power operation

Sensor networks have been the subject of intensive research over the past decade. They consist of a number of independent sensor units that are linked together. Sophisticated software coordinates their activity, enabling users to flexibly monitor large areas or even volumes of city, forest, mountain or other environment for all kinds of changes, on different time and distance scales.

Working sensornet installations have been monitoring some locations, including the James Jacinto Mountains Reserve near Idyllwild, California on Mt. San Jacinto, and the Stunt Ranch Reserve in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu, California.

ISI has long been a part of the sensornet research and development community, working both independently and in collaboration with CENS. ISI technology is part of the James Jacinto and Stunt Ranch installations.