Friday, December 08, 2006

Wireless Sensor Networks at UCLA’s CENS Initiative with Bill Kaiser

I recently had the opportunity to visit Bill Kaiser and the UCLA lab focused on Wireless Sensor Networks. The CENS, Center for Embedded Network Sensing researches emerging technologies for wireless sensor network applications, in particular for environmental monitoring and biomedical.

Their research focuses on
1. Algorithm development & system development
2. Embedded computing
3. Signal processing
4. Control systems

Most wireless sensor network research focuses almost exclusively on conserving battery power and how to trade off performance for power savings. It was refreshing to hear Bill Kaiser’s focus on powered sensors – high performance/high accuracy sensors which use external power for functions such as noise reduction, actuation, and calibration.

He doesn’t ignore power conservation but seeks energy efficiency using energy scheduling and accountability in the network. By making heterogeneous network nodes, one can select the right hardware for an operation. If the application requires a small workload then one can apply a simple sensor with a microcontroller unit. For high workload operations, one should use a high performance CPU. By making more complicated silicon one can save energy usage in a network setting.

Bill calls this the LEAP approach -- diverse sensor systems with fine grained platform instrumentation. They interfaced LabVIEW to LEAP for integrating signal processing, control systems, and embedded network sensing.

The LEAP includes a processor for energy management and accounting in addition to the host processor module. The additional silicon reduces the overall usage of energy. In the last six months they are now creating a new generation of the LEAP system called LEAP2 which seeks platform scalability – the number of current sensors must scale with the platform configuration.

All the hardware and software components are open source and publicly licensed. Their goal is energy profiling for online algorithm refinement. By understanding where the energy is going, they can optimize the network. Their research hopes to answer questions such as how do I change my algorithm to be more energy efficient? Manually, off-line automatic scheduling and compilation, or online adaptation to change task schedule and behavior.

Their current activities including Seismic sensor nodes, Environmental sensor nods, and Marine Systems—new wireless buoys deployed in the Catalina channel.

Bill sees WIFI as a key element in building wireless sensor networks. With a large wireless footprint, anyone can place a node into an area and network it into the system.

Bill’s team is using LabVIEW for developing algorithms and reducing debugging time. LabVIEW opens up the applications for non-engineers to use sensor networks. He and his team will be working on the detailed VI’s this coming year.

Best regards,
Hall T.

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