ZigBee Gets Real

The Zigbee Alliance, meeting in Seattle recently, produced big announcement from a small company, says Dana Blankenhorn.

Ember sponsored the Seattle meeting, delivered the main address, and had its implementation chosen as the test bed for Zigbee compliance.

Reports from Smart Convergence, Sensors Magazine, Technology Review and Business Week indicate big growth from low-power mesh networking devices.

Large corporations already are discovering new applications for wireless. Nestl is installing hundreds of ice-cream vending machines in France and England that send daily reports on their sales and notify drivers if they’re running low on cones. Canadian train and plane maker Bombardier has fitted 1,000 railcars in Britain with radio devices that transmit reams of preventive maintenance data.

Dutch giant Royal Philips Electronics wants to put wireless links in all of its products, from entertainment gear to medical systems. It’s even developing technology that links light fixtures using ZigBee radios. ZigBee systems can even be tied into the mobile network. That way, if the lights are left on over the weekend, the building manager could be notified with a text message on his mobile phone — and he could message back to turn them off.

C/Net reports that by the end of the decade, the Internet will sprout hundreds of millions of “smart nodes”, giving computer networks millions of tiny electronic feelers. The market for equipment and services related to wireless sensor networks could be in excess of a billion dollars by that time, predicts Harbor Research.

The IEEE 802.15.4 standard operates at data rates of 10 kbps to a max of 250 kbps. Wireless links can operate in three unlicensed frequency bands (2.4GHz, 868Mhz and 915MHz). When lines of communication exceed 30 feet, the 802.15.4 standard creates self-configuring, multihop networks. It is intended to operate in an unlicensed, international frequency band with applications in sensors, interactive toys, smart badges, remote controls, and home automation.

The ZigBee Alliance specification is a combination of HomeRF Lite and the 802.15.4 specification and operates over 16 channels with data transmission rates of up to 250kbps at a range of up to 30 meters. ZigBee’s technology is slower than 802.11b and Bluetooth, but it consumes significantly less power. It can connect up to 64,000 nodes on one network.

Dust Networks is one of a handful of start-ups working to make this vision a reality. Others include Crossbow Technology in San Jose, Calif., Ember in Boston, and Millennial Net in Cambridge, Mass.

Intel and Accenture are active in the field, as are leading research universities including the University of California at Los Angeles, Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley. DARPA, the National Science Foundation and the CIA are funding efforts, too.

“The combination of “the smallest wireless commercial grade [smart dust] mote in the market with the smallest wireless RFID tag in the world will revolutionize what ubiquitous computing really means,” says Mike Horton, CEO of Crossbow. The sensor and the reader are each about the size of three stacked quarters.

Oki has the world’s first fully compliant IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee chip. The technology promises to start a new generation of wireless sensor networks, utilizing the unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum. TinyOS, developed at Berkeley, is a popular operating system for the devices.

At the 29 Palms Marine base in southern California, a couple years ago, unmanned aircraft dropped wireless magnetic sensors along a road. Once on the ground, the sensors formed a wireless network and began looking for magnetic anomalies. As a vehicle passed by the sensors, they would detect the vehicle from its magnetic signature to estimate the vehicle s speed and direction. The unmanned aircraft returned overhead to collect the data from the network and transmit them to the remote operation command headquarters.

The Sensor Expo & Conference June 7-10, 2004 in Detroit may showcase many new developments.

Sensing the Potential
Crossbow Technology
(San Jose, CA)
Modular motes with interchangeable sensors Environmental monitoring, security
Digital Sun
(San Jose, CA)
Soil-monitoring networks for smart sprinklers Landscaping, horticulture
(Berkeley, CA)
Four-square-millimeter motes Inventory tracking, surveillance
(Boston, MA)
Self-organizing nodes and software Building and factory automation, defense
(Santa Clara, CA)
Modular motes with interchangeable sensors Monitoring of farm, wildlife, and manufacturing sites
Millennial Net
(Cambridge, MA)
Dime-size, low-power nodes and software Building automation, meter reading, supply chain management
Motorola Florida Research Lab
(Plantation, FL)
Self-configuring communication networks for monitoring and sensing Agriculture, disaster relief, and asset tracking
(Waltham, MA)
Networked sensors of vibration, corrosion, and stress Safety monitoring of bridges, tunnels, and roads
Sensicast Systems
(Needham, MA)
Mesh-networking software for sensors Museum security, landscaping, horticulture
(San Diego, CA)
High-performance nodes and software Defense networks, automotive and health-care systems
(San Diego, CA)
Radios, sensors, and networking software Industrial and equipment monitoring, heating and ventilation

The July 2004 IEEE 802 Plenary Session to be held in Portland, OR, July 11-16, 2004, will bring together 802.11/.15/.16/.17/.18/.19/.20/.21 Working Groups, eyeball-to-eyeball.

Related Daily Wireless articles include Showdown at .15, Hot Shoe, Slow Mesh Heats Up,Sensor Nets, Meshing at Intel, Oceanographic Wireless, Earthquake Monitoring, a Seattle to Portland Wireless Network Proposal, Berkeley Wireless Research Center, The Age of Steam and ZigBee’s Low Power Wireless.

Atmospheric Monitoring Via Satellite

Worried about the coming Ice Age? Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends has just the ticket — The Satellite A-Train.

NASA says the information gathered by a “train” of different satellites sweeping over the same spot will improve the understanding of how clouds and aerosols regulate the Earth s climate.

A satellite formation, consisting of six satellites flying in close proximity, may be operational in the near future.

The six satellites of NASA's A-Train

The first satellite, Aqua (acquires precise atmospheric and oceanic measurements), was launched in 2002. The second one, Aura (observes the atmosphere), will be launched in June 2004, while CloudSAT (will use advanced radar to “slice” through clouds to see their vertical structure), CALIPSO (will provide key measurements of aerosol and cloud properties needed to improve climate predictions), and PARASOL (French’s CNES microsatellite project will measure the radiative impact of clouds), will start their missions in October 2004. The last one, OCO, will join them in 2006 and provides space-based observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal anthropogenic driver of climate change.

The individual missions and the A-Train formation are described in this paper, “Formation Flying: The Afternoon ‘A-Train’ Satellite Constellation” (PDF format, 6 pages, 263 KB).

The satellites will cross the equator within a few minutes of one another at around 1:30 p.m. local time. By combining the different sets of observations, scientists will be able to gain a better understanding of important parameters related to climate change.

The satellite formation will help answer these important questions.

  • What are the aerosol types and how do observations match global emission and transport models?
  • How do aerosols contribute to the Earth Radiation Budget (ERB)/climate forcing?
  • How does cloud layering affect the Earth Radiation Budget?
  • What is the vertical distribution of cloud water/ice in cloud systems?
  • What is the role of Polar Stratospheric Clouds in ozone loss and denitrification of the Arctic vortex?

The National Climate Data Center is the world’s largest active archive of weather data while the National Center for Atmospheric Research watches the sky. Are phenomena like abrupt climate change a serious threat? Talk of the Nation asks the experts (ra).

Dozens of Interactive Map Products are available for things like satellite fire detection, environmental modeling and multibeam bathymetric data using a free Web mapping interface.

NOAA will soon have a new $61 million Satellite Operations Center in Suitland, Md. The new building, expected to open in 2005, will be the nerve center for current and future environmental satellite operations.

The Satellite Operations Control Center provides command, control and communications for three sets of satellites: NOAA’s geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES); NOAA’s polar-orbiting operational environmental satellites (POES), and the Department of Defense’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).

It will also contain operations for the Cospas-Sarsat system which uses NOAA and Russian satellites to detect and locate emergency beacons that emit distress signals from pilots, mariners and hikers as well as the National Naval Ice Center which provides worldwide operational ice analyses for armed forces of the United States, allied nations, U.S. government agencies and the private sector.

Day After Tomorrow may carry suspension of disbelief too far but Mother of Storms by John Barnes, provides an option. It merges climate change, game networking, politics and pornography together to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

Here are some photos of the Nebraska Tornados and a piece from This American Life.

Tracking Cattle with RF-ID

CNN reports, every cow in the United States may someday have a unique ID number.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman Tuesday announced the framework for a National Animal Identification System.

The system has been in the works for at least 18 months, but development was hurried in the wake of the discovery of a Washington dairy cow infected with mad cow disease last December. Some 57 countries have banned imports of U.S. beef, devastating the industry.

“We want to allocate an individual identification, just like you and I have Social Security numbers,” said Bill Hawks, an undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After a Holstein cow tested positive for mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy known as BSE, in Washington last year, the federal government stepped up efforts to more efficiently track animal diseases.

The USDA recently launched the first phase of its National Animal Identification System with $18.8 million in funding. The long-term goal of the project is to be able to identify farms where a specific animal lived within 48 hours of a possible outbreak.

Fourdraine said the same database that keeps track of animals’ geographic movements can also keep information on health, vaccinations, and lineage.

The USDA says it will be “technology neutral” about the tracking system. Farmers can use any of a variety of tracking methods — from physical tags to biometrics and DNA tracking — as long as it provides critical data about animals’ movements. RFID, or radio frequency identification, is now leading the herd among tracking technologies.

The U.S. Animal Identification Plan eventually will include many other species, from bison and sheep to goats, llamas, alpacas, poultry, even 11 species of fish.

Privacy advocates worry that the technology will allow other uses, such as real-time tracking of customers in stores, or even after they leave stores. Senator Patrick Leahy warns of the potential risks RFID tagging may pose to privacy and civil liberties. Thus far there are no federal bills or laws related to RFID privacy concerns.

More information is available at MIT’s Autoidcenter.org, EPCglobal, RFID.org, RF-ID Journal, buyrfid.com, ACSIS.com, RFID toolkit, rfidtalk.com and nocards.org. WiFi Planet overviews RF-ID technologies.

Dailywireless has more on RFID including Mad Cow RF-ID, Handheld RF-ID Readers, Airport RF-ID, Tracking RF-ID, Digital Angel, RF-ID: From Soup to Nuts, Tracking Ship Movements – And You, Homeland Insecurity, Marathon RF-ID Tagging and Port Security with RF-ID, Intelligent Transportation and RF-ID Tracking from Space?.

Mars Updates

Steve Featherstone is filing Dispatches from Mars (Slide Show and ra).

The Mars Society has a Desert Research Station in Utah that is supposed to simulate an actual Mars mission.

Meanwhile, Back on Mars, the Opportunity rover is surveying the rim of Endurance crater, while also walking a line in its delicate power management. As temperatures plunge during the martian winter, the scientific team faces one of their anticipated tradeoffs: power versus mobility and science return.

A joint ESA/UK inquiry was set up to investigate the ill-fated the Beagle 2 mission.

Congress held hearings on ‘Life in the Universe’ a few years ago. Get ready for alien contact via Project Phoenix and the Allen Array.

NASA’s Genesis spacecraft collected tiny pieces of the solar wind and will return them to Earth. The comet samples will be recovered at the Utah Test and Training Range in January 2006.

The Mars Sample Return Missions may began in 2011. The actual quarantine facility may resemble “The Andromeda Strain” — politics and all. It will take 7 years to build. Talk to the Committee for University-based Space Research for more info.

Camphone Gallery

Alan Reiter writes about the Rx Gallery’s “Mobile Phone Photo Show”. They have posted more than 1,500 camera phone photos from 350 participants in 50 countries in a real gallery. The Rx Gallery expects to receive some 10,000 images before the exhibit is over, according to an interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Every day, more images arrive and are added to the MPPS database, which sorts them into a queue and projects them for 20-second intervals onto monitors and screens throughout the gallery.

A patchwork of an estimated 10,000 photographs will eventually cover most of the wall, creating what co-curators Kurt Bigenho and Greg Crowley call a global “metaphotograph.” The MPPS culminates with a big party June 18.