Intel Corp. this week offered a demonstration of a forthcoming self-healing, wireless sensor technology. The sensor grid could improve the monitoring and analysis of environmental conditions and Intel said it will deploy the technology in its own manufacturing plants.
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.
Intel Expects Sensors to
Replace Simple Identification Approaches”>
The current version of the mote is a cookie-like logic board the size of a quarter, said Wei Hong, an Intel researcher on the project. Each mote uses the TinyOS, developed by U.C. Berkeley scientists, to connect to the next sensor and create a network that dynamically adjusts itself as motes are added and subtracted. Software by Rockwell Automation analyzes the results.
In a 100-node test network, tests discovered that 20 percent of the motes arent detected by the network, Krishnamurthy said. In addition, the RF fields generated by the wafer manufacturing equipment can interfere with the motes, reducing data transfer rates by as much as 50 percent.
According to Krishnamurthy, Intel hopes to offer the motes as a superior form of RFID chip. While RFID tags are years away from being deployed on individual items, both the Department of Defense and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will require their respective suppliers to install RFID programs by January 2005.
Over the long term, RFID tags will be a “Trojan horse” for the more-capable sensors, Krishnamurthy said.
“Take a bottle of wine. How do you know if a product has been kept perfectly (aligned)?” Krishnamurthy asked. “Today I can tell you where a product is. Tomorrow, Ill be able to tell you where it has been.”
However, the additional data from the mote sensors will place a strain on the conventional client-server architecture used by data centers, said Abel Weinrib, director of Intels Communications Lab. “Were looking at an increasing amount of information…thats doubled in the last three years,” he said. “The question is, will tomorrows data centers be able to handle this?”
Intel is already beginning to look at technologies that will assist data processing, including different strategies to read and write data, as well as object-oriented storage.
One addition, dubbed “server network acceleration”, will combine Intels work in multigigabit wired Ethernet with its microprocessor development. In current approaches, when data enters a server it is written to memory or to disk, which can require hundreds of computing cycles to fetch. However, overall computing times could be improved if the data were written directly to the processor itself, and stored in on-chip cache memory, said Alan Crouch, director of the Performance Networking Lab at Intel.
In addition, Intel is promoting the use and development of object-based storage. This technology seeks to pool data, while separating it from its “metadata,” attributes that describe the file, location and contents on a few distributed servers.
Meanwhile, Intel is also working on self-managed platforms, which could automatically work to help combat the spread of a worm or virus, Crouch said.