Prognostics is finding an increasingly large and receptive audience who are viewing it as the road to “pervasive health management”. As systems become increasingly complex, it also becomes necessary that diagnostics and prognostics be thought of and built into deeper areas of the systems. In fact, this is much of what is happening for vehicle structures, where intelligent sensors become embedded directly into the structure itself.
The concept of pervasive computing, also known as ubiquitous computing, began as many of today’s inventions have in the Xeros Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the late 1980’s. The motivations behind pervasive computing are to put the computing environment back into the background, rather than have it dominate its environment as a focal point. For the home, this means finding ways to interact with computers on terms convenient to the individual, rather than on the computer’s terms–that is, on a desk, with a printer and monitor, near an outlet, near an internet connection, with the right lighting, etc. It’s easy to see how quickly the computer demands interaction on its terms.
Two of the most important features that emerge from pervasive computing are wireless communication and security. In order to gain freedom for the placement of computation power, wireless communication is essential. With wireless computing also comes the demand for increased security, since typical home computing demands confidentiality (credit card numbers, login information to banks, etc.)
It’s obvious that we still have a ways to go before the computer works the way we do, rather than forcing us to work its way. Prognostics might, however, shorten that road by bringing new approaches to the problem, albeit arising from a completely different angle. In fact, pervasive computing will certainly influence and be influenced by developments in prognostics.
Many of today’s developments for prognostics focus around the concept of the smart sensor. Smart sensors are essentially sensors with computing power associated with them, in the form of supporting hardware and/or software. The purpose is to report more concise and intelligent information to the system or subsystem. Adding to the desire to have smart sensors is the desire to eliminate wiring problems, for reasons such as improving maintenance and/or assembly costs, increasing system reliability, etc.
The Prognostics demand for wireless communication is two-fold. First is the problem of wiring in general as mentioned earlier. Second, is the problem that falls exactly along the lines of pervasive computing, which is the fact that sensors will begin to exceed what can be practically achieved through wiring. Consider, for instance, new structural sensors being integrated into modern aerospace applications. It is conceivable that one could have hundreds of thousands of sensors, communicating with their neighbors and to the system in general.
Prognostics also demands security. With wireless sensors, the integrity of information being reported by those sensors becomes paramount. In fact, it would be the easiest attack on a wireless-sensored prognostics vehicle to “convince” it that it’s structure was damaged, thereby effecting a vehicle-level decision to remediate to a ficitious situation. As such, security and robustness in how the vehicle uses wireless sensors is of key concern.
Inevitable is the fact that computers will continue to dominate our lives, a realization that motivates pervasive computing. Prognostics, in many ways, is both a further realization of that fact, as well as a new driver behind it. One can be assured that this complement between commercial and military/aerospace technology will result in many years, if not decades, of advancements in pervasive prognostics computing.