A team led by Robert Bowman, professor of electrical engineering, has been conducting a multiyear effort with PPC Corp., a maker of telecommunications connectors, to develop the Smart Sensor. Installed in the connecting units of coaxial cables, the sensor system can provide information about equipment degradation and signal integrity and report the status to managers or crews in the field.
"A key issue in the management of tele- communications systems involves the telecom connectors that are used to link coaxial cable on cellphone towers," notes Bowman. "A failure with a connector, which can be caused by a loosening connector or excess moisture, can knock out an entire telecom network."
The Smart Sensor uses sophisticated, self-diagnosing technology and diagnostics to assess overall system quality and predict component failure. Using backscatter telemetry, the sensor can report the exact location of connectors needing repair. It is also designed to extract energy from a radio frequency source, which is converted to power the IC chip or "brains" of the sensor, eliminating the need for an external power source.
"This technology is really exciting, and the impact it could have on the industry is only just becoming apparent," says Noah Montena, principal engineer at PPC who worked with Bowman on design and prototyping of the device. "Up until now, connector and equipment failures could be detected only after tower capacity had been diminished, and only pinpointed on-site with the system shut down."
Following the success of the initial effort the team worked with RIT's Intellectual Property Management Office to patent technology developed through the project and license it to PPC. The company is currently developing the Smart Sensor for use in its existing products, while the RIT team is investigating other potential applications for the technology.
"We are now conducting extensive testing on an array of designs to verify our mathematical models and to provide a set of guidelines to aid prospective companies or organizations interested in building their own smart sensing equipment," Bowman adds.