This will be the last episode of IT Conversations that I reference. I think that wireless sensor networks hold tremendous promise–not just for manufacturing and production, but also for most areas of our lives. In this episode, Dr. Peter Hartwell discusses Hewlett-Packard’s project to form a new information ecosystem called the Central Nervous System for the Earth, or CeNSE. The system will include a planetary system of a trillion nano-scale sensors and actuators embedded in the environment and connected via an array of wireless networks with computing systems, software and services to exchange real-time information among analysis engines, storage systems and end users. Applications include food safety, energy use and factory operations.

Several things continue to annoy me about the unfulfilled promise of wireless sensor networks in our market. For one thing, I’m impatient about the cost of sensors. One of the promises would be low-cost sensors scattered in many areas of a plant, for example. Think of the knowledge regarding the status of a plant with many sources of input combined with powerful analytics and visualization. But to this point, suppliers seem more interested in extending expensive sensors. Of course, they make more money. But this still limits the potential. I bet this is an area where a small, entrepreneurial company could make a huge impact.

There there are the standards. Have you ever been on a standards committee? I have, several times. There’s a company versus community attitude that sometimes crops up. Check out ISA100–a committee that is still struggling. I hear lots of back yard conversations where it’s hard sorting wheat from chaff. There are some good leaders on the committee, but not enough. More members must step up to the plate and look out for the good of the community.

When you have two sides that draw the proverbial line in the sand and refuse to compromise, you have problems–just like the fiscal cliff or gun regulation conversations. But we’re in a commercial market. The market will decide, but it could be left with multiple standards that lead to interoperability problems for users.

It’s time to get over the stubbornness and provide leadership to move the community forward.

It’s also time for innovative engineers to work on sensor design so that cool, new smart sensors can come to the market and help us realize the vision.

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