Monday, June 20, 2011

#WIRELESS: "Smarter Sensor Nets Monitor Any Environment"

Paolo Dionisi Vici (left), associate research scientist in the Department of Scientific Research at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Hendrik Hamann (right), research manager at IBM, discuss the environmental sensor network for preserving art. (Source: IBM)

Wireless sensor networks originally designed to monitor data center server farms by IBM are being deployed in new environments where they repurpose software analytics and cloud computing capabilities to solve a wider array of societal problems. Wireless sensor networks, composed of nodes called “motes,” can monitor local environmental factors like temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and even corrosion, sending a constant stream of data to analytic software running on cloud computers. Originally developed to prevent maintenance headaches at data centers, IBM is now repurposing them to solve a variety of societal problems, such as preserving irreplaceable works of art.

“Migration of this approach to other industrial and public spaces can employ a vast variety of networked sensors,” said Hendrik Hamann, research manager at IBM Research. “Whether it be an art object or any other monitoring criteria within a building or a campus, building operators need to gain a better understanding of the environmental conditions that are impacting their spaces.”

Wireless motes are already deployed worldwide in many data centers, providing smart real-time monitoring of server farms that typically reap more than 10 percent savings in continuous energy consumption just weeks after installation. Using IBM’s Data Center Monitoring and Energy Management (MMT) software, analytics are already on the job streaming sensor data from data centers and related installations, such as at AT&T’s Telecom Central Offices.

Motes can house any type of sensor, even specialty sensors such as high-precision accelerometers for seismic monitoring, but for monitoring indoor environments the sensor complement typically includes temperature, humidity, pressure and in some cases corrosion sensors. The data from these motes is typically streamed to cloud computers running Java-based real-time analytics that model the environment with physics, then provide operators with 3D visualizations showing maps of the parameters. For instance, a thermal map could illustrate in-tolerance temperatures as “blue” and out-of-tolerance hot spots as red, with yellow and orange showing the gradients in between.

One of its first pilot projects is at the New York Metropolitan Museum, where a wireless sensor network is monitoring the environment at The Cloisters exhibit—a branch of the museum devoted to art and architecture from 12th through 15th century medieval Europe.

“This pilot project has the potential to become an important tool in the Metropolitan Museum's ongoing efforts to achieve the best environmental conditions for the works of art in our care," said Paolo Dionisi Vici, associate research scientist in the Department of Scientific Research at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

IBM’s wireless sensor network time-stamps each sensor reading, then feeds the results to cloud computing resources, which provide the analytics and real-time visualizations. Currently using 100 sensors, the pilot project is slated to eventually be expanded to thousands of sensors throughout the main museum at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, where they will measure temperature, humidity, air flow, contamination levels, light levels, and whether doors are open or closed.

The museum is also working with IBM to define smarter types of corrosionlike sensors that can sense actual changes in the materials of which art works are composed, potentially heading off damage to century-old works even before analytic models have incorporated that avenue to deterioration.
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