This paper presents a thought experiment as to the feasibility of using large scale wireless sensor networks as a vehicle for high level scientific investigation. The discussion is framed by a demanding scenario, that of planetary exploration, and the assessment of feasibility is driven by the available micromachining technologies and recent advances in the areas of ad-hoc networking, communications and intelligent sensing. Following the development of the mission, the next question addressed is that of how MEMS and VLSI technologies may be integrated to provide a self-contained space probe, 40mm in length. A sensor payload is proposed, which includes seismic, chemical, temperature and visual exploration. Possible means are discussed for developing integrated sensors to address these sensing requirements. The energy and communications systems are also discussed, based on the needs of a mission profile, which provides no special 'base station' nodes on the surface, requiring each sensor package to be capable of communication with an orbiting satellite. It is concluded that the sensor node hardware would appear to be feasible, with current levels of MEMS and VLSI technologies. It is hoped that the study will enthuse and encourage researchers from a variety of domains, including micro-engineering and the computer sciences to explore in depth the potential of the wireless sensor networks and give them some high level awareness as to the constraints the design of such systems impose. © 2006 The Electrochemical Society.
- Communications systems
- Intelligent sensing
- Planetary exploration, Ad hoc networks
- Electronics packaging
- Intelligent networks
- Microelectromechanical devices
- Microsensors, Wireless sensor networks