Wireless Sensor Networks: How Indian Universities Are Exploiting a New Technology

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“Technology allows a society to survive natural disasters, defeat enemies in war, and develop the natural resources available to it more fully. All these give it an advantage over any society that doesn’t do these things.” – War In Heaven (Griffith, 1988)

One such revolutionary technological milestone was the introduction of Wireless Sensor Networks(WSN). A WSN, in layman’s language, is a group of sensors spread across a large area, located strategically at various positions which work in coordination with each other, take environmental or surrounding data and send it to a main server through a wireless network. Introduced  by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), U.S.A. in the early 1980’s, this branch of technology is still in its nascency with various universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University etc doing research for its development.

Born and brought up in USA so far, it has not been long since WSN research set foot in India. And one presumes that it will take long before one can actually see some practical application of a new-sprung technology. Well, true in most cases but Amrita University didn’t take long. They have developed India’s first ever Wireless Sensor Network based Landslide Detection System.

Deployed in Munnar, Idukki district of Kerala, this system does rainfall induced landslide detection using a  heterogeneous network that works in combination with Wi-Fi and satellite technology. The system consists of multiple sets of geophysical sensors located inside a column called the Sensor Column, burried deep inside the earth.

These sensors take the geophysical data (various environmental parameters such as rainfall, temperature, humidity, and hydrological and soil parameters, including moisture content, soil pore water pressure and soil movements) which is sent via a Wi-Fi link to a Field Data Management Center which in turn is sent to the Data Management Center (DMC) at Amrita University, Amritapuri campus situated about 250 kilometers away from the deployment field. This DMC at Amrita has sophisticated landslide data processing and modelling capability, writes WINSOC. The system was developed keeping in mind the devastation caused to hundreds of people by landslides every year.

This system was deployed in the year 2008 and has been successful in its functioning. Looking at this success, Amrita is now developing a Wireless Sensor Network to be deployed in the Mullaperiyar Dam to monitor warnings of dam breakage. The development of this system has been appreciated and encouraged by the Government of India who have also expressed interest in deploying it in other landslide-prone areas, including the rest of Kerala, Himalayan region and Maharashtra.

Yet another project based on the same technology is being carried out by Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology. They are working on a project called WildCENSE which aims at monitoring wildlife, particularly the habitat of Indian Nilgai using various sensors like GPS, temperature, humidity, light sensor etc embedded in specially designed collars to be worn by animals. The system thus would be able to monitor the habitat, movement pattern and behaviour of Nilgais.

Wireless Sensor Networks is one very useful field of technology with a huge potential for research, development and innovation and I hope more Indian universities and research organizations exploit it and come up with innovative solutions to various problems prevailing in the country.

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