Adam Dunkels, a senior scientist at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science, has developed software that’s used to network devices as diverse as satellites, pipelines, electric meters, and race-car engines. Such devices often incorporate tiny computers that need to relay data to a central server. Using the Internet Protocol (IP) would allow them to communicate with any other device or computer by means of existing infrastructure. But until Dunkels proved otherwise, many computer scientists believed that these “embedded systems” had too little memory and power to use IP.
In 2000, Dunkels shrank the protocol so that wireless sensors could use it to report hockey players’ vital signs to fans. He continued condensing it so that ever more limited sensors could use it, eventually writing a version that uses only 100 bytes of RAM. This miniature version of IP is now used by hundreds of companies.
He went on to incorporate it into a complete operating system for embedded systems; called Contiki, the freely downloadable open-source system was first released in 2003. Dunkels is still improving Contiki and finding new ways of using it to build and enhance wireless sensor networks. –Erica Naone
Trucks: Embedded sensors send the home station information about fuel consumption compared with distance traveled.
Cameras: Networking software allows the user to send pictures directly from the camera over an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection, and to configure the camera from the Internet.
Planes: Sensors send data from various noncritical systems to the pilot’s display screen.
Oil Pipelines: Oil companies use Dunkels’s software to receive automatic messages from remote pipelines alerting them to irregularities.
Home Heating: Embedded systems enable radiators to communicate with a central controller so that a building can be heated more efficiently.
Credit: Julian Pacaud