BOSTON -- Kevin Ashton, vice president of ThingMagic Inc. and cofounder of the MIT Auto-ID Center, predicted that more than half a trillion RFID tags will be consumed annually by decade's end.
Ashton told a keynote audience at the Embedded Security Seminar conference here that global RF sensor networks will be ubiquitous to the point of invisibility within a few years.
Little thought has been given to making such networks secure and reliable, Ashton said. Because sensor mesh networks rely on ICs that are often less than 300 microns on a side, few processing advances can be made to each node without increasing their power consumption or per-unit price.
"These devices are resource-constrained, and you can't just keep throwing on features like clocks," Ashton said.
In some ways, these small-scale versions of grid computing reverse a new trend in embedded computing, Ashton said. For too many years "embedded technology has been the poor relation of computing," relying on hand-me-down microcontrollers of far less processing power than desktop CPUs.
Finally, Ashton said, new embedded controllers like the Intel IXP network processor family are significant computers in their own right. But distributed RF sensor networks will rely on very low-end nodes in order to hold unit prices at a few cents per node.
Planners foresaw the intelligent networked home with appliances assigned their own IP address. IP nodes in the embedded world would represent a tough security dilemma in their own right, Ashton said, but the new version of tinier RF nodes is even tougher.
If a distributed sensor network collects information about consumers and notifies a central distribution source, Ashton said, methods of authentication, repudiation and privacy protection will have to be developed to account for the distributed-intelligence architecture of the mesh.