Wenjing Lou holds an example of a sensor node, available commercially, consisting of a low-power, high-performance microcontroller, an integrated onboard wireless transceiver, and integrated humidity and temperature sensors.

Wireless Research Earns CAREER Award

By Michael W. Dorsey

Simple wireless networks—from the Wi-Fi hotspot at your local Starbucks to the cellular network that carries your phone calls—have become commonplace over the past decade. But there are more complex varieties of wireless networks that are only just beginning to find real-world uses.

Sensor networks, for example, consist of hundreds or even thousands of small wireless nodes (some as tiny as specks of dust) that can sense the environment—monitoring temperatures, listening for sounds, detecting vibrations. First used by the military to locate enemy submarines or track troop movements, sensor networks are being considered for applications as diverse as sniffing for radiation leaks at nuclear power plants, guarding paintings in museums, and monitoring traffic f low on highways.

Finding the most efficient and reliable ways to move data through these weblike networks is one focus of the research of Wenjing Lou, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at WPI. Her early success in this field recently won Lou a five-year, $450,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award—the agency’s most prestigious award for young faculty members.

Sensor networks differ from home or office networks, in which signals from a laptop jump to a nearby access point in a single hop (the signals travel the rest of the way over wires). In a sensor network, most of the nodes may be far beyond the reach of an access point. Their signals must hop wirelessly from node to node to reach their ultimate destination. Researchers call these multihop networks.

With her CAREER Award, Lou is conducting a comprehensive study of a novel way of managing traffic in multihop networks. Typically, a node that needs to send a packet of information down the line looks at its neighboring nodes and sends the packet to a single node that appears to have the best chance of passing the signal along to the next node in the chain. The strategy is risky, since momentary signal interruptions may keep the packet from getting through.


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Last modified: March 27, 2009 15:21:48