The shape of things to comeSandia develops an imporved sensor network

Published 8 December 2006

The future — well, a part of it at least — belongs to sensor networks; rsearchers at Sandia Natioal Lab have developed the unattended ground sensor (UGS), and system whcih combines off-the-shelf components with in-house developed elements to create a better andre useful network; investors and manufacturers may want to make the lab an offer for the technology

Much attention is being paid to RFID technology, but that technology is only the more visible element of deeper technological dynamics — the emergence of sensor networks. Significant advances on three fronts — device miniaturization, power consumption reduction, and standardization of broadcast technologies such as 802.15 — now allow for the embedding of more and more sensors in, or affixing of sensors on, more and more things to perform more and more tasks. Sensors around the house can now automatically control heat, humidity, and security; sensors in the supply chain can now accurately track supplies and merchandise; and sensors attached to the clothing of the old and infirm can now broadcast an alarm to a nearby medical facility when the sick person falls to the ground or is inert for extended periods of time.

Now, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, by integrating readily available generic sensors with a more sophisticated sensor, have developed a detection system which holds the promise of making it easier to catch perpetrators trying to infiltrate prohibited areas - be it a family dwelling or an ultra-secret military facility. The research team examined how small, low-cost, low-power, commercially available sensors can supplement the team’s in-house customized sensors developed. During the time the team was looking into this question (we are talking 2002 to 2005), work done on several other proejcts at the lab — Target Acquisition, Location, Observation, and Neutralization (TALON), Hard and Deeply Buried Target Grand Challenge (HDBT), Sensor Dart, and Virtual Perimeter System (VPS) — contributed to the advancement of what is now caled the unattended ground sensor (UGS) technology.

The team’s work resulted in solidifying a sensor system complete with onboard GPS, compass, local and long haul radios, digital signal processor, and video capabilities. The UGS is significantly larger than the off-the-shelf sensors and is not currently available for mass production, but the integration of the more powerful sensor and the smaller, commercially available ones will increase detection range, lower false alarms, and increase the area of coverage per dollar spent in complex terrains.

The $75,000 in funding for the off-the-shelf sensor work came through Sandia’s internal Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program. It was “late start” money awarded near the end of the fiscal year to help solve a specific problem.

The commercial sensors were provided by San Jose, California-based Crossbow Technology, and they were modified with Sandia algorithms and some minor hardware changes. They can be powered by either a battery or solar panel, depending on customer needs. The sensor uses a geophone equipped with a four-inch pointed spike planted in the ground to detect movement by measuring seismic waves. One potential application of the UGS would be strategically to place off-the-shelf sensors at out-of-sight locations around a secure facility. The Sandia UGS would be placed nearby and video-linked to a security station monitored by guards.

These UGS will also become part of Sandia’s intrusion detection work.

The Lab would be interested to hear from investors and manufacturers who would be in a position to help in continuing to improve the system and then produce and market it to the wider market.

-read more in this Sanida Lab news release; for more on wireless sensor networks, see Crossbow Web site