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An Internet of Senses

We need to build an integrated architecture that would enable organizations to share physical data collected by wireless sensor networks.
By Daeyoung Kim and Jongwoo Sung
Jan 18, 2009The EPCglobal network, often called the "Internet of Things," was developed to allow companies to use Electronic Product Code standards to track goods in the supply chain with radio frequency identification and share related data over the Internet. Now that we can track objects, industry and research communities are interested in using wireless sensor networks (WSNs) to capture and process information about physical environments, such as temperature, humidity, pressure and vibration. But WSNs tend to be developed as isolated networks for individualized applications, and there is no way to share the collected sensory information.


At the Auto-ID Lab Korea, we believe the EPCglobal network provides the underlying infrastructure for an integrated sensor network. In addition, the two technologies—RFID and WSNs—would complement each other. But networking sensory data and EPC RFID data raises all levels of technical issues, such as architecture design, software, security and business models.

There are three main challenges: First, the current EPCglobal network does not support sensors in standardized ways. Second, sensor networks have unique characteristics, including time synchronization, energy-effective networking, energy-saving mechanisms and embedded middleware. It's not easy to combine such complex technologies with standardized architecture. Finally, the EPCglobal network standards, including Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS), are too customized, especially for supply chains. Also, it's difficult to support XML or similar higher-level languages popularly adopted for Internet computing in severely resource-constrained sensor nodes.


We have been working since 2005 to meet these challenges and build an EPC sensor network—a ubiquitous infrastructure with a standardized architecture operating on a global scale. It will enable sensor data collection, configuration, filtering, access and sharing among heterogeneous sensing sources. The real benefits of WSNs will be achieved when end users with appropriate authority can access sensor data using standard Internet interfaces.

Furthermore, combining the EPCglobal network with a sensor network will provide solutions for underlying challenges. We'll see the development of more complex RFID tags that have networking and sensing abilities. The combined networks will open research and business opportunities and allow new services.

This is a long-term project that covers a broad range of technologies. We are actively working with other Auto-ID Labs, including Cambridge, and we expect to have a first prototype system for proof of concepts by the end of 2009.

Daeyoung Kim is associate research director of the Auto-ID Lab Korea and a professor of engineering at Korea's Information and Communications University (ICU). Jongwoo Sung is a senior researcher at the Auto-ID Lab and a doctoral candidate in engineering at ICU.
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