Wireless Sensor Networks have been a focus of research in the North American freight railroad industry to enable on-board real-time sensing of critical railcar parameters. Important railcar aspects like wheel bearing temperature, air pressure, brake failure, and the integrity of transported goods can then be monitored closely and reliably. This enables immediate preventive actions in case of impending failures and also enables trend analysis that can be used to fine-tune maintenance efforts on railcars. These measures increase the safety, efficiency, and dependability of freight railroad operations.

In our previous work [1–3] we have presented our Hybrid Technology Networking (HTN) protocol. This protocol provides optimal network performance for railcar monitoring applications. We have also presented HTNMote, a hardware prototyping platform that implements HTN. A deployment of HTNMotes was conducted and evaluated at the TTCI facility in Pueblo, Colorado in the US. The results from our field tests confirm that this approach is an order of magnitude better in performance compared to solutions based on ZigBee alone.

In such an application, energy considerations represent a key challenge. These sensors have no readily available continuous energy source, but are expected to operate for years in harsh conditions. Energy harvesting — from vibrations, temperature differences, or solar radiation — may provide a potential solution to the energy scarcity. This also mandates that the HTNMote hardware and HTN protocol both be as energy efficient as possible.

In this paper we present detailed measurements of the energy consumed by the HTNMote in various operational situations that are encountered during their operation onboard freight railcars. We introduce an energy consumption model based on our analysis of the measurements. This model demonstrates the energy-efficiency of the HTNMote implementation.

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