SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Saving the planet one sensor at a time, the backers of the Trillion Sensor Summit here shared their visions and some research working toward a fully instrumented world.
"I believe in a world with abundance -- a world without hunger, with medical care for all, with clean energy for all, no pollution," said Janusz Bryzek, chairmen and CEO of the event. "One of the components creating this world is a sensor at the bottom of the pyramid for mobile health, the Internet of Things, and wearable applications. In order to get there, we need to completely transform the economy."
Experimental chips from the Energy-Efficient Microsystems Group at UCSD's Center for Wearable Sensors.
Abundance will require another 45 trillion sensors, many of which haven't been developed, Bryzek said. Wearable medical sensors pose enormous potential, speakers said.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego are among those driving the trend. "Elimination of poor countries by 2035… galvanizes the student population," said Albert Pisano, dean of UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering. If I'm pumping out almost 2,000 graduates a year, and they're pumped up about this, it doesn't take much to have an army dedicated to this."
Proof-of-concepts from UCSD's Center for Wearable Sensors included small, inexpensive sensors for a variety of medical uses. For example, the center has developed a proprietary board with glucose monitoring sensors that can be plugged into any smartphone, a retinal prosthesis with an implanted integrated circuit, and wireless power for data telemetry.
Joe Wang, distinguished professor in UCSD's Department of Nanoengineering and faculty director of its wearables center, showed off a variety of very small skin sensors. Screen printed tattoos with embedded sensors can monitor metabolism, electrolytes, and stress indicators, he said. The same sensors could be worn or placed on objects to measure environmental conditions such as pollution or mineral levels in water.
Real stats moving up and to the right fueled some of the enthusiasm. The mobile sensor market grew more than 200% between 2007 and 2013, and the mobile health market is expected to lower treatment costs by 35%.
"The biggest challenges are the amount of data, processing this [data], and supporting infrastructure," Bryzek said. Global health monitoring will require the cost of sensors to drop to less than 50 cents each.
Wang's prototypes may be on the right track, with price points of $1 for the tattoos and $23 for the glucose meters. However, price isn't the only or even the main factor. Bryzek said a "dramatic shift of skills" and "massive retraining" will be needed to create the technology for a trillion sensors.
Developing that many sensors "is not inevitable," according to Steve Whalley, chief strategy officer at the MEMS Industry Group. "If it wasn't for TSensors Summit, we'd be going on an evolutionary pace, and maybe we'd get there, but it wouldn't be at the pace we need for the growing population."
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times