Definition

WSAN (wireless sensor and actuator network)

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A wireless sensor and actuator network (WSAN) is a group of sensors that gather information about their environment and actuators, such as servos or motors, that interact with them. All elements communicate wirelessly; interaction can be autonomous or human-controlled.

WSANs are sometimes referred to as wireless sensor and actor networks because they can involve more than a single actuator on an actor point. An actor point might involve, for example, a combination of servos and multi-geared electric motors organized together to perform more complex tasks. A WSAN’s distributed sensors allow for automated measurement of environmental variables and control of some desired aspects of the environment through autonomous or directly controllable sensors and actors.

WSANs are built of multiple nodes whose numbers can range into the thousands, each connected with one or more sensors with sensor hubs as well as individual actuators or actors. They are sometimes used in locations where exact measurement and control of an environment is necessary. In that kind of scenario, autonomous processing of data, response and CPU control allows for actors to input change immediately.

The initial development of WSANs was motivated by military and government agencies’ desire to better monitor battlefields and other environments as well as organizations and persons of interest. Today, WSANs are increasingly used for commercialized applications such as monitoring and control of industrial settings, telemedicine and scientific development.

Sensors and sensor hubs in smartphones could be used to improve consumer services through location awareness. Smartphones may soon enable location awareness calculated to a centimeter, even inside buildings. That accuracy is expected to be enabled through combined use of the sensors in the device. The applications of that capability are varied. For example, numerous individuals using smart devices could, in effect, form a WSAN to monitor entire populations.

WSANs are an element of the increasing trend toward the Internet of Things (IoT), in which any entity imaginable can be outfitted with a unique identifier (UID) and the ability to transmit data over the a network. As with many other elements of the IoT, WSANs raise privacy and security issues.

This was last updated in September 2015

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