Public Release: 

Sensor networks protect containers, navigate robots

'Ring of fire'

Washington University in St. Louis

Agent 007 is a mighty versatile fellow, but he would have to take backseat to agents being trained at Washington University in St. Louis.

Computer scientist engineers here are using wireless sensor networks that employ software agents that so far have been able to navigate a robot safely through a simulated fire and spot a simulated fire by seeking out heat. Once the agent locates the fire, it clones itself - try that, James Bond -- creating a ring of software around the fire.

A "fireman" can then communicate with this multifaceted agent through a personal digital assistant (PDA) and learn where the fire is and how intense it is. Should the fire expand, the agents clone again and maintain the ring - an entirely different "ring of fire."

Agents in computer lingo are specialized pieces of code that are self-contained and mobile. Wireless sensor networks are made up of tiny computers that can fit in the palm of a hand. They can run on simple AA batteries, sport an antenna and a sensor with a specialized duty of sensing the environment -- temperature, magnetism, sound, humidity, for instance.

Catalin Roman, Ph.D., the Harold B. and Adelaide G. Welge Professor of Computer Science and department chair, developed a middleware - a special kind of software -- called Agilla, which enables the cloning of agents and their ringing ability. Roman believes that wireless sensor networks are poised to explode upon the world stage, similar to the way the Internet took off after the creation of the World Wide Web.

"What researchers are banking on is that sensor networks will be so cheap to make that they can be employed on a very large scale," said Roman, who directs Washington University's Mobile Computing Laboratory. "This way you can spread hundreds and thousands of them around gathering data and communicating."

Imagine a farmer wanting to get soil data - temperature, or Ph - over hundreds of acres with slightly varying soil types. Instead of painstakingly physically taking measurements - being a farmer 'outstanding in his field" -- in theory, he could send a software agent with Ph sensing capabilities to a particular sensor network, have the Ph agent clone itself and gather the data over hundreds of acres, then transfer itself onto another sensor network on the Internet and send its data back to the farmer's office. That's not Old MacDonald's farm.

Similarly, a manufacturer might want to safeguard containers in a warehouse. A sensor network can be put in place on the containers that communicates with each other, alerting an alarm should, say, light be sensed, or a vibration. Again, the manufacturer can remain in his office and communicate with the network with a PDA.

"This is fascinating software, and this technology is opening up, and we have no idea where it's going to go, " Roman said. "Right now, wireless sensor networks are allowing us to explore the future."

One of the key features of Agilla software is its flexibility. For instance, in the fire-simulation study, the networks allow for both simulation of fire and tracking of the fire. Agilla is considered a major breakthrough in the field of wireless sensor networks and lays the foundation for rapidly developing applications.

The Aristo robot and navigation experiment in the video are courtesy of Burchan Bayazit, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of computer science and engineering, and his graduate student Nuzhet Atay, of the University's Media & Machines Laboratory.


The following paper is on how the researchers use mobile agents and a sensor network to detect and track wildfire:

1) Chien-Liang Fok, Gruia-Catalin Roman, Chenyang Lu. "Mobile Agent Middleware for Sensor Networks: An Application Case Study" In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Information Processing in Sensor Networks (IPSN'05), Los Angeles, California, April 25-27, 2005, pp. 382-387.

The following two papers show how they use a sensor network for cargo monitoring:

1) Gregory Hackmann, Chien-Liang Fok, Gruia-Catalin Roman, Chenyang Lu, Christopher Zuver, Kent English and John Meier. "Demo Abstract: Agile Cargo Tracking Using Mobile Agents." In Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys 2005). November 2-4, 2005. Page 303.

2) Hackmann, G., Fok, C. -L., Roman, G. -C., and Lu, C., "Agimone: Middleware Support for Seamless Integration of Sensor and IP Networks," Washington University, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, St. Louis, Missouri.
(Published in Proceedings of 2006 International Conference on Distributed Computing in Sensor Systems (DCOSS '06)

The following paper was nominated for best paper award at ICDCS 2005. It is also the paper that describes Agilla.

Chien-Liang Fok, Gruia-Catalin Roman, Chenyang Lu. "/Rapid Development and Flexible Deployment of Adaptive Wireless Sensor Network Applications/" In Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems (ICDCS'05), Columbus, Ohio, June 6-10, 2005, pp. 653-662.

The following paper is done by students in the Washington University Media Machine's Lab in collaboration with the Mobilab. It describes how they use Roman et. al.'s mobile agent technology and sensor networks to guide a robot around fire hazards:

1) Roadmap Query Protocols for Sensor Network Guided Navigation in Dynamic Environments, Sangeeta Bhattacharya, Nuzhet Atay, Gazihan Alankus, Chenyang Lu, O. Burchan Bayazit and Gruia-Catalin Roman, Technical Report WUCSE-2005-33, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Washington University , 2005. The paper won the best paper award at ICDCS 2006.

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