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The Emerging World Of Wireless Sensor Networks

After trying to connect every computer, PDA, and telephone to the Internet, researchers are starting in on the world around us. Wireless sensors that can detect subtle changes in air temperature and soil quality, vibrations thrown off by machinery, or abnormal noise on a road are starting to appear in lab tests and industrial pilots. These sensors, lasting months or years in the field on a pair of AA batteries, can organize themselves into a network of hundreds of "motes" the size of a deck of cards, then transmit their findings back to a central computer.

Proponents of the technology say wireless sensor networks could lead to a more granular understanding of our surroundings. They could even be used in conjunction with radio-frequency identification to cost-efficiently identify and track items. InformationWeek senior writer Aaron Ricadela spoke with two prominent researchers in the field, Teresa Lunt, manager of the Palo Alto Research Center's computer science lab, and Hans Mulder, an associate director at Intel Research.

A full report on sensor nets will appear in our Jan. 24 issue.

A talk with Teresa Lunt, manager of PARC's computer-science lab
InformationWeek: Some of the sensor network pilots so far seem almost commonplace: monitoring vibrations from industrial equipment or moisture in the soil. How soon are we likely to see a killer app for sensor networks?

Lunt: We'll be surprised by the killer app just like we were with the Internet. We have the technology enabler, but people are just replacing things that exist, like temperature sensors in buildings, with things that are easier to deploy. We have the wireless technology, the sensors, and the computation. But so far there's been no single killer app to catapult the technology, like the Web did for the Internet.

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