Wireless Takes the Stage at ISA Expo

With the selection of a wireless sensor networking pioneer for the opening day keynote address and a plethora of industrial wireless products on the exhibit floor, wireless technology grabbed lots of attention at the Houston event.


Who woulda thunk it?

Not Kris Pister, Ph.D., the University of California at Berkeley researcher who came up with the term “Smart Dust” more than a decade ago to describe the concept of wireless sensor networks.

“I have to confess that when I coined the phrase ‘Smart Dust,’ I had absolutely no idea that the industrial process space would be where it would really see its first major commercial success,” Pister told an audience of process engineers and other automation professionals during his opening day keynote address at the ISA Expo 08 conference and exhibition, Oct. 14-16 in Houston.

Yet today, that seems to be exactly what is happening. Pister, now the chief technology officer at Dust Networks Inc. (www.dustnetworks.com)—the Hayward, Calif., company that he founded in 2002 to cash in on the technology—rattled off a long string of early commercial success stories for the technology. And most involve industrial process applications.

The ability to place relatively low-cost sensors virtually anywhere and get information back from them without need for wires has potential for application in a long list of industries, ranging from consumer electronics and healthcare to home and building automation. But industrial process monitoring is where the technology seems to be taking off first, Pister said. He credited a combination of reliability proven through initial real-world industrial applications, the emergence of industrial wireless standards, and quick end-user return on investment (ROI) among the primary drivers.

Wireless standards

As in recent years, wireless technology was everywhere on the ISA Expo exhibit floor, with numerous vendors showing wireless products. This year, many vendors were touting near-term plans to ship initial products based on the WirelessHart standard, which was released by the Hart Communication Foundation (HCF, www.hartcomm.org) as part of the Hart 7 specification in September 2007. Executives from several vendor companies—ABB, Emerson Process Management, Endress+Hauser and Siemens—expressed commitment to the WirelessHart standard during an HCF press conference at this year’s ISA show.

While WirelessHart is the first officially released industrial wireless communication standard, work continues on the planned family of ISA100 industrial wireless standards. During the show, the ISA announced that a committee ballot on a second draft of the first of those standards—the process-oriented ISA100.11a—was supported by 63 percent of voters, falling short of the required two-thirds approval. The ISA100 committee will now address comments received during the ballot process with appropriate revisions, and will re-ballot the draft to voting members, with a goal of achieving a final ISA100.11a standard by the end of 2008.

ISA renamed

One vote that did receive approval was the one taken on Oct.13 by the ISA Council of Society Delegates to change the name of the organization from the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society, to the International Society of Automation (www.isa.org). The new ISA name reflects the growing importance of automation beyond just instrumentation and systems, as well as the Society’s push to become more global.

The renaming issue had become an emotional one for some, after the defeat of the name change last year. But this year, the proposal passed by “an overwhelming majority,” according to an ISA press release. “The new name ensures that when science and technology advance beyond our wildest imaginations, we’ll still have an identity that encompasses and embraces all of the current and future members that make up our Society,” said ISA President Kim Miller Dunn. “The International Society of Automation is clear, concise, all-encompassing and easy to comprehend by our membership, as well as lay people outside the industry.”

Expo capsules

Many vendors made announcements or introduced new products at this year’s ISA Expo. Please click here for a capsule look at some of them.

Dust Networks Inc.

Hart Communication Foundation

International Society of Automation

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