Wireless is a key capability to reduce the costs associated with wired sensor cables. According to Dr Begbie, director, iSLI, “Putting in cables adds to aircraft cost and, crucially, weight and it’s not the easiest thing to get in and maintain. If you take Rolls-Royce as an example, when it is developing a new engine it can have upwards of 3000 sensors attached when it is on the testbed. Routing all the wires to the sensors and bringing them all back to a collection point is a big job, and when you have 3000 cables running over a vibrating engine, you get a lot of difficulty with drop-outs. So Rolls-Royce wants us to look at how the wireless technology can help.”

Subsequently, the system can be improved to take on tasks like predictive maintenance and, ultimately, real-time data for safety-critical components. It may also be of great use in the carbon fibre components being developed to replace aluminium aircraft parts, where sensors can be used to help monitor how the components are coping with high pressures and heavy loads and allow manufacturers to get better information about super-structural capacity and the life expectancy of each component.

Wearables to fight flab
According to a recent New York Times report, scientists are developing wear-able wireless sensors to monitor over-weight and obese people as they go about their daily lives.

Made of sophisticated sensing instruments, the devices will track how many minutes the wearers work out, how much food they consume, whether they went for the routine walk at the park or sneaked into a fast-food joint, and so on. The goal is to make the users aware of where, when and how they added more calories to the existing pile—or, on a more positive note, how they managed to lose some of it!

Coming up next…
As far as the field of wireless sensors goes, we have seen only the tip of the iceberg.

The next generation might live a life completely controlled by sensors—sensors that detect how much they eat, how many calories they burn, by how many micrometres their waistline expands or shrinks in a day, how well their faculties and organs are functioning, how many minutes they work, how well their car is working, when and how many lights are turned on in their home, what volume of pollutants they add to the air, how much electricity they consume in an hour, how long they use each device and what not.

Some day, the bubble will burst as security and privacy issues loom large, but just as the World Wide Web emerged stronger and better after the dotcom bust, sensors too will emerge victorious and perhaps really make the whole Earth an Internet of Things.


The author is a freelance writer based in Bengaluru. She writes on a variety of topics, her favourites being technology, cuisine, and life

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