Imagine a distant planet, yet to feel the footstep of its first human visitor, being orbited by a spacecraft. Before sending a brave soul down for exploration, it would seem wise to perform a preliminary investigation of the planet's surface. But how do we accomplish this?
This is the question Matthew O’Connor is trying to solve, as he undertakes his PhD in Wireless Sensor Networks.
After graduating from a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Electronics and Computer System Engineering at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, Matthew moved to Canberra to undertake his PhD.
“I was inspired to think about a research degree and career because I enjoy the creativity and excitement of developing techniques that currently do not exist. You are able to expand the horizons of the field you are in and pioneer methods that may become commonplace in the not too distant future.
“I chose ANU because the university has a fantastic international reputation and my undergraduate university (VUW) was beginning a dual PhD relationship with ANU.”
The positive atmosphere and experiences with ANU staff and fellow students has been a highlight for Matthew.
“What I like most about my student experience so far is the fantastic campus and friendliness of all ANU staff and students. The whole university has a very positive feeling to it. ANU has provided me with excellent supervision and networking opportunities, both academic and commercial.”
After completing his PhD, Matthew hopes to apply his research and undertake collaborative work with the Department of Defence.
“My advice to prospective PhD students preparing themselves for living in Canberra is to buy a car or motorcycle to fully explore the city. Make the most of your time here by getting involved with university events, sports teams, and fellow students, and join one of the many fitness groups through ANU Sport to develop both your mind and body while here.”
So, how do you undertake an investigation of a planet’s surface?
“Firing out hundreds of small, inexpensive, wireless processing units equipped with microprocessors, transceivers for communication, and thermal, acoustic, and pressure sensors for measurement of the planet. These self-contained units would be capable of collaboratively and distributively collecting data from the planet. Return transmission of this data could then be accomplished by collectively beamforming the measurements to the orbiting mothership”.
Whilst this may sound like science fiction, it will soon become a reality.
“Over the last few years electronic sensor technology has seen a rapid increase in processing power as well as a decrease in component cost. This, coupled with recent advances in wireless communication technology has made the development of large scale wireless sensor networks feasible for use in speech detection, interference cancellation and temperature sensing, among others.”