One technology that has fascinated me ever since I heard about it was Wireless Sensor Networks. It promises to reduce both cost as well as power consumed for computation. The technical challenges it offers (mainly in the field of routing protocols) are good enough to capture any self-respecting Computer scientist’s attention. The amount of research going into this is a good indication that the technology holds tremendous commercial promise, with big players like Intel, Freescale, Texas Instruments vying to get a grip in the market.
The good thing about WSNs is that they are capable of automating various monitoring tasks which otherwise would have to be done by people. They are, being machines, are not susceptible to errors and falling asleep (unless the battery runs out!), and consequently, a highly reliable system. The standard that is presently the most popular is the IEEE 802.15.4, which takes care of low-level things and the Zigbee standard, which is a higher level thing based on the 802.15.4. A properly configured 802.15.4 device can run for months on one set of batteries, which makes it attractive where power is scarce and expensive.
Unlike regular computers, which have one CPU, the network behaves like a giant distributed computer, and hence designing algorithms is an interesting task. To cut up a big task into many small ones, distribute them over many small computers, then collating the results, and to do this reliably and efficiently, are big issues in the research community nowadays.
So, where does this fit into ICT for Development ? we don’t really care about complex algorithms, but the attractive feature is low power consumption, and cheap cost of computation. There are competitive solutions which cost less than a thousand rupees per node. The applications are quite a few : Intelligent agriculture, Forest fire detection system, animal monitoring systems, to name a few. These are things that are done manually and with large inefficiencies in the process. Lack of regular, reliable information is the main issue, and that is what these networks address.
At AllGo Embedded, we have been working on some interesting applications which we hope will make a difference in the common man’s daily life. More on this matter, as and when progress (or patents ;) happens.