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NIMS Team Wins One of Eight ITR awards from NSF for 2003

by Professor William Kaiser

As the growing community has pursued wireless sensor network technology and applications, we encounter increasingly severe challenges with regards to the long standing problems of energy constraints and scalability. However, in applications within natural and civil environments, we also now encounter the problems of obstacles to sensing and vision. The complexity of signal propagation in environments leads to a sensing uncertainty with regards to events and objects in the environment. This fundamentally limits our ability to identify and characterize phenomena.

We have developed the Networked Infomechanical Systems (NIMS) to address this directly. NIMS allows us to introduce the physical reconfiguration that is neccessary for adapting physical sensors. Now, with NIMS, we are able to add new sensors and move sensors - we refer to this as Sensor Diversity. They must be moved in such a way as to allow us to actually measure sensing uncertainty - our term for this is Coordinated Mobility.

NIMS has many other new capabilities as well. For example, NIMS devices can collect and transport physical samples from the environment - so, we are now not limited to sensing only with in-situ devices. We also plan to exploit the ability for NIMS to replace relocate and replenish fixed nodes.

The most exciting aspect of NIMS is our team. We have an exceptional group of undergraduate and graduate students. Their accomplishment this summer was the development and deployment of a NIMS system that operated in a forest field biology station, the Wind River Canopy Crane Research Facility in Washington.

Our faculty team is multidisciplinary and exceptional. Professor Greg Pottie (Electrical Engineering) provides the critical Information Theory foundation that has lead to the concept of a System Ecology. This is a large vision that embraces a hierarchy of fixed and mobile wireless sensors with an intelligent infrastructure. Deborah Estrin (Computer Science and CENS Director), Mani Srivastava (Electrical Engineering), Gaurav Sukhatme (Computer Science at USC), and John Villasenor (Electrical Engineering) have developed the concepts of Sensor Diversity and Coordinated Mobility for NIMS. This combines basic information technology research in areas ranging from networked embedded computing to robotics.

NIMS research is driven by novel applications. The field biology expertise of Professor Phil Rundel (UCLA Department of Organismic Biology) and Michael Hamilton (Director of the James Reserve at UC Riverside) has been critical to the development of our concepts for research in the natural environment. Here we will be investigating fundamental phenomena in ecosystems including carbon flux and other global chance indicators. We will also be lead by Professors Richard Ambrose (School of Public Health), Tom Harmon (Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Merced) and Jenny Jay (Civil and Environmental Engineering). With their expertise we will also be able to focus on Public Health applications of NIMS where distributed sensing and sampling will be brought to bear on water resources. The NIMS Public Health applications will focus on detection and characterization of contaminants. In particular, NIMS sampling offers a unique opportunity for automated detection of biological pathogens through adaptive physical sampling of water.

The education goals for our NIMS program are already underway, over 20 dedicated undergraduate researchers contributed to our NIMS program this summer. Here, the infrastructure that Dr. Sara Terheggen of CENS created has been invaluable. These take advantage of the National Science Foundation programs in this area. For example, this summer, through the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program, we will have Los Angeles area teachers engaged with us in our research with the goal of developing course modules for Grades 6-8 programs.

As NIMS develops, we constantly encounter new applications. We expect that in addition to natural environmental science and public health monitoring applications, NIMS will also contribute to protection of national infrastructures.