Monday, March 14, 2005

Wireless Sensor Networks Research in the Academic World

This past week gave me the opportunity to visit numerous universities working on the Ad Hoc Network/Wireless Sensor Network challenge. The challenge is how to deal with a network of nodes that may be in unknown positions or move around so that the position of the nodes may change. The other challenge is how to deal with a large number of these nodes – say over 1000 of them. At that level, it would be difficult to program and track each node.

In Wireless Sensor Networks, areas of investigation included developing algorithms for locationing, communications, energy management, and dealing with defective or non-responding nodes (perhaps the battery ran down on a particular node). This last one is part of a larger effort to develop algorithms for propagating information through a network of nodes in which the network could be changing or unknown. Many of the researchers used autonomous vehicles such as ground-based robots and aero vehicles to test out concepts and apply algorithms. Their goal is to develop strategies and algorithms for communicating and sharing information among the robots and also some facility for each robot to work autonomously.

You can see what work is being done at Stanford , at Berkeley, and Caltech.
In most cases, the researcher used simulation tools to test out their concepts for dealing with large numbers of nodes. At one university they wanted an application generator – tell the software what you want to measure and then the system determines how many nodes and what position in order to provide the application measurement.

Working with over a 1000+ nodes in a network presents several challenges. How can one keep track of 1000+ nodes and program them individually? There needs to be a way to aggregate the nodes into meaningful groups (e.g. All nodes on floor 1 of a building, or all nodes that read temperature and currently have a temperature > 40C, etc). One researcher described the requirements for a working with a wireless network system as the following:
1. All sensors placed on the node.
2. Communication aspects must be reconfigurable.
3. Distributed computation.
4. Nodes can be heterogeneous.
5. Synchronization – for scheduling strategy.
6. Several sensors controlled by a computer (not one to one)

They pointed me to several conferences that are key to this area including Mobicom, Globecom, and Infocom.

If you are working in the area of Ad Hoc Networks or Wireless Sensor Networks, I would like to hear from you. Please email me at hall.martin@ni.com.

Best regards,
Hall T. Martin

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