Sensors on the Internet of Things
by Mike Fahrion
You’re rarely more than a few feet away from a sensor these days. There’s a sensor in your smoke detector that tells it to shriek at you when it wants a fresh battery. There’s a sensor in your HVAC system that tells the unit when to cycle itself on and off, thus ensuring that men will always be too hot and women will always be too cold. When you’re perusing the headlines on your Samsung Galaxy Tab, there’s a sensor that makes sure the tablet always knows which way is up. (Even if the babbling political pundits don’t.) Your car has somewhere between 50 and 100 onboard sensors, depending upon the make and model, and even your trusty old washing machine contains a few.
Now let’s scale that up for industry. Industrial sensors must measure everything from magnetic fields and soil density to fluid pressures and freefall. There are billions of them on the job, and the tools we use to connect them to the Internet will be basic building blocks for the Internet of Things. Data becomes far more valuable when it can be accessed anywhere, and when it can be combined with additional data to produce intelligent business decisions.
I don’t know much about building sensors. But I do know that they come in countless shapes and sizes, and that they’ll all eventually need to be connected to an application. That’s where I come into the picture. Designing and building a sensor presents one set of challenges; getting it connected presents another.
We’ve come up with a highly scalable and very flexible solution: The Wzzard Sensing Platform. The platform made its debut at Sensors Expo a few weeks ago, and we were the belle of the ball. ECN selected us for the show’s Top Ten list and our booth was overflowing with traffic from start to finish. Our visitors could see how the platform can be used in virtually any industry, and in an endless range of applications. And I don’t mind admitting that I had a lot of fun showing it off.
The Wzzard Sensing Platform is a complete connectivity solution. It was specifically designed to simplify the task of collecting sensor data out at the network edge and taking the data all the way to the applications that need it, wherever those applications may be.
The Wzzard platform starts by connecting sensors to our Wzzard Intelligent Edge Nodes, whether the sensor is brand new or a legacy device that is already in place. The connection can be wired through a conduit or with an M12 connector. The Intelligent Edge Nodes then create a wireless mesh network using ultra-reliable SmartMesh IP technology. As every node on the network is a router, the network is self-forming and self-healing, and the data has multiple paths to the platform’s network gateway, the Spectre Cellular Router. New nodes can be added or subtracted at any time. All of this means that the network is incredibly reliable, resilient and easy to install. It also makes the network very scalable, as any node that is out of range of the network gateway will simply use its fellow nodes to move data to the gateway.
The nodes communicate via MQTT, the emerging IoT pub/sub protocol that lets application developers transport sensor data without needing to know much of anything about the physics or the configuration of the sensor itself. (I would argue that if a solution is to be truly scalable, the data consumer should require no additional information from the data producer. Everything that is needed should exist in the data that is already being published.)
The Spectre Cellular Router gives the mesh network Internet access via either wired or cellular connections. The router also provides automatic failover, so a wired router could be instructed to switch to the cellular networks if its primary connection should ever fail. In locations where wired connections are impractical, of course, the Spectre Cellular Router would simply use the cellular network as its primary connection.
This seamless combination of mesh, cellular and wired networking has endless possibilities. At our Sensors Expo booth we didn’t have to tell our visitors where or when to use Wzzard. They could see the whole picture for themselves. Nearly every visitor inspired us with yet another application and yet another way to use Wzzard to get more value out of their sensors and assets. You’ve probably already had a few ideas of your own. If so, I’d love to hear them.
I’m pretty jazzed about this new product line. Take a look at the Wzzard website if you’d like to learn more about it. We’ve posted application stories as well as explanations of the technologies involved.
And while you’re at it, check out my new three-minute video about our journey towards the full-fledged Internet of Things.
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