In these autarkic distributed microsystems, programmable micro-nodes are combined with sensor technology to form miniaturized, functional systems with self-sufficient power supplies. As part of an innovation and technology analysis (ITA), Fraunhofer IZM is performing is a detailed investigation of their use in precision agriculture and for condition monitoring and control in industrial automation.
The potential of this technology should not be underestimated. For example, wireless sensor networks could reduce carbon emissions by several hundred million tons per year. Similarly, application of enhanced networked sensor technology in precision farming could save 3.6 million m3/a of fresh water by 2020.
Based on the results obtained to date, we have proposed the following action plan for further technology research and development in this area:
- Improving the energy efficiency and power management of sensor nodes and components (as the power supply is typically a main factor limiting the lifetime and miniaturization of the individual nodes)
- Developing enhanced technologies for small build sizes and system integration; although in many applications, the minimum dimensions of the sensor nodes are irrelevant
- Development and improvement of sensor technology in line with (bio-)chemical parameters and which allow the regeneration of active sensor surfaces and self-calibration
- Optimization of network communication protocols for multi-hop networks and self-organization, anticipating and reactive systems, and networks with several hundred nodes
The main environmental aspects to be addressed include:
- Minimizing the amount of rare base metals used in sensor node applications, which alone promise to move multi-millions of units as an industry
- Minimization of hazardous and critical substances in components, especially in the case of non-contained use where it is unlikely to get hold of the sensor nodes at end-of-life
- Advancement of green wireless sensor applications, i.e. exploring solutions for sensor-based monitoring application that significantly enhance efficiency and reduce environmental impact