Part passive sensor, part tiny computing device, Intels sensor "motes" will replace arrays of traditional wired sensors. Each mote, which costs $50 or so to produce, will be assigned to monitor part of a multimillion dollar production line, and sense any problems before they arise.
The motes will check for changes in vibration, which could be a warning sign that a multimillion production line is going to fail. Intel currently uses field engineers, who seek out problems on foot. With the mote network in place, Intel will be able to assess and monitor potential problems in near-real time.
"The idea is that when this works, it will go into all of the fabs," said Lakshman Krishnamurthy, who calls himself a "principal investigator" on Intels Ecosense research project. The company invited reporters to its Santa Clara, Calif. headquarters on Tuesday afternoon for a glimpse at the future of IT, as Intel sees it.
Krishnamurthy said that by shifting its current sensor network to the wireless motes, Intel hopes to demonstrate a commercially feasible return on investment, as well as provide an easily understandable framework to sell the idea to other firms. Eventually, Intel hopes to use the motes to develop a superior form of radio frequency identification (RFID) tag to identify and monitor individual wafers as they move through the fab.
Originally, Intel designed its wireless sensor networks to monitor environmental conditions outdoors; for example, to track the changes in humidity, temperature, and solar radiation on different points of a redwood tree.
For its manufacturing application, each mote, now armed with specialized sensors to detect vibration, will be assigned to listen for clues like the distinctive whine of a failing bearing.
In each fab, Intel currently has mounted approximately 4,000 sensors, 1,500 of which are wired into a network. The other 2,500 or so are unwired, and must be independently checked by foot by highly-trained employees who must nevertheless manually enter the sensor information into a handheld device.