European sensors will monitor radiation, pollution and extreme temperatures

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Wireless sensor networks are currently receiving huge attention as a basic tool to detect emergency events or monitor physical parameters of interest, such as radiation, pollution and extreme temperatures. The WINSOC project, supported by the EU with EUR 2.44 million in funding, is developing innovative sensor networks that mimic biological systems. With these new sensors, the project partners hope to detect immanent catastrophes in time for action to be taken. Initial project results have already been reported in various journals, such as IEEE Signal Proc. Magazine and IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing.

WINSOC, or Wireless Sensor Networks with Self-Organization Capabilities for Critical and Emergency Applications, is a technical science project that is inspired by living organisms around us. It is funded under the EU's FP6 Information Society Technologies programme and will end in February 2009.

The sensors being developed by the project aim to address three areas in environmental monitoring: (1) detection or prediction of landslides; (2) detection of gas leakage to prevent hazard situations or simply avoid unnecessary wastes of energetic resources; and (3) monitoring of temperature fields as a way to detect fires or, even better, to predict the risk of a potential fire in a given area.

Europe is currently witnessing an exponential increase in the development of urban areas and infrastructure, as is the rest of the world. More and more people are settling in environments that are or are becoming endangered by mass movements, such as landslides and the like. This situation is further complicated by the fact that the dependency of today's society on a functioning infrastructure and the number of humans or objects in endangered areas are growing at the same time. This leads to an overall increase of risk for society.

WINSOC and programmes like it focus on reducing risk through monitoring and early warning systems, so immediate positive effects for protection of human lives and objects can be expected.

One main goal of this project is the development of a low-cost autonomous sensor network that is suitable for the detection and observation of mass movements. In order to get information about movement rate, acceleration and movement direction of a landslide-area, appropriate real-time observation systems are being selected and will be tested.

The WINSOC platform aims to create an easily deployable network of sensors that are capable of obtaining the relevant information concerning monitoring and surveillance. Such a platform, the partners predict, will foster the use of sensors to address the increasing demand for complex systems resulting from the need for more safety, more security and more automated processes.

WINSOC, therefore, will provide the perfect match between the users' demand for relevant complex systems related to monitoring applications and the current trend of cost reduction of sensors and wireless devices.

To achieve this, the project will develop and test innovative algorithms, and devise the most appropriate radio interface. These developments are what will allow the sensors to communicate, as well as what sets them apart from other monitoring systems. In part, these advances are being inspired by biology, what is known as 'bio-inspired science'. This involves looking to nature to solve problems, i.e. using living organisms as a model to study and conceptualise problems in a variety of fields including engineering and design, materials or sociology.

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