Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Sunday, December 4, 2016
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IoT Seen as Prelude to ‘Sensor Swarm’ 

sensor_swarm

The current IT infrastructure shaped by the proliferation of mobile devices will soon give way to a "sensory swarm" that will overtake the current Internet of Things (IoT) while adding intelligence to a range of networks and infrastructure, a futurist predicts.

"In the near future, we are going to have a sensory swarm, a great deal, a great variety of all kinds of heterogeneous sensors that are going to interface the cyber world, the computing world, with the physical world," according to Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, an electronic design automation expert at the University of California at Berkeley.

Speaking at recent technology forum sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the electrical engineering and computer science professor predicted the coming sensor swarm could generate 7 trillion devices by 2025. That estimate is based on projected global population of 7 billion with an average of 1,000 devices per human being.

Further, Sangiovanni-Vincentelli predicted input and output devices would end up in and on the body as well as in the surrounding environment. Sensors will be "immersed in the environment," he added.

From IoT to "sensor swarm."

Hence, he argued, the Internet of Things is "an intermediate step to go to this 'sensory swarm'-dominated world. So it's about making everything smart," including utilities, traffic and other critical infrastructure. In the case of traffic management, the coming sensor swarm means "we won't need to worry about getting from Point A to Point B. The system will take care of it."

The rosy forecast also comes with negative effects, the engineering professor acknowledged. While chipmakers have so far been able to "dominate the complexity" of 10 billion-transistor microprocessors, they still need new design rules and the ability to apply a "layers of abstraction" and tools to continue mastering complexity in many domains. This approach would eventually led to new methodologies, or sets of recipes, for designing the chips that would underpin the coming sensor swarm.

What is needed to harness the coming sensor swarm, Sangiovanni-Vincentelli argued, are "CyberPhysical Systems" that integrate computation and networking. "The technical problem is managing dynamics, time and concurrency in networked, distributed computational and physical systems," he told the DARPA conference.

UC-Berkeley's Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli.

The chip design guru argued for "platform-based design" methodology in which a platform serves as a "library or resources" that includes interfaces used to define links between sensors. Hence, future sensor networks require more interconnections and communication protocols, Sangiovanni-Vincentelli argued.

Indeed, groups like the Open Interconnect Consortium have begun developing these links via a proposed IoT specification. The spec is based on the assumption that "cloud-native design is critical to unlocking the cost, scalability and reliability that the deployment of millions of devices requires.”

Meanwhile, DARPA and the Semiconductor Industry Association are sponsoring a TerraSwarm initiative to help design future sensor swarm systems that would initially serve as an extension of cloud computing.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 25 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as Executive Editor for Electronic Engineering Times.

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