Researchers at Rensselaer have recently begun working as part of a newly formed group of international scientists, known as the International Technology Alliance. Its goal is to rethink network computing and communications across urban environments.
The ITA is led by IBM and consists of top researchers in industry, academia, and government. This new project, funded by the United States Army Research Laboratory and the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence, will be brought to the Rensselaer campus through the work of Professor Boleslaw Szymanski and his team of researchers. The team will be one of 12 in the ITA consortium and will receive approximately $1.85 million of the $138 million allocated for the total project funding. The program is also unprecedented in terms of its geographic scope, its length of 10 years, and the depth of its industry-academia collaborations.
Szymanski, a professor of computer science as well as director of the Center for Pervasive Computing and Networking at RPI, will look to explore more advanced and effective wireless sensor networks in urban areas with the help of his team. Three Rensselaer students will be working on this project under Szymanski's supervision: doctoral students Joel Branch and Mark Lisee and Kamil Wasilewski '06.
"The program covers network theory, network security for highly mobile ad hoc networks, sensor and information fusion, and distributed coalition planning and decision making," Szymanski said.
While capabilities grow every day and the price of hardware continually drops with new technology, the fact remains that there are no well-established standards for sensor network nodes or data produced by them. Most are very specific to applications, have limited resources - such as small amounts of memory, battery dependence, slow processors, or communication range - and scientists do not yet have a full understanding of what capacities sensor networks hold. The research team hopes to ameliorate these problems and gain a better understanding of what role sensor networks can play in military and civilian uses.
"My personal view is that the most important aspect of our program is the fact that our research will be comprehensive and will range from finding fundamental limits of the technology, to novel protocols and application algorithms, to security and privacy issues, to performance optimized to the particular goals of the network owners, [and] to integration with and interfaces to humans," said Szymanski.
"The research will result in a paradigm shift in which the networking and distributed processing will become a pervasive and ubiquitous part of infusion of technology into military and society. The design principles for autonomous, self-organizing, and self-repairing networks - including sensor networks - will be the most tangible outcome of [the] research, and wide military and commercial deployment will follow as the result of transition efforts."
The result of this research will be instrumental in enhancing the military's ability to make more flexible battlefield decisions using a secure network of sensors; however, it will also have other implications besides those of a combat nature. "The project will also help in everyday life: finding parking in Manhattan, for example," said Wasilewski. "You can have a network of sensor nodes communicating with your car's navigation system telling it where there are free parking spaces."
Szymanski believes the research will be very appealing to current undergraduates, comparing it to research in other well-developed areas of computer science. In other areas, an undergraduate would simply be asked to lend a hand to an already established model created by a master, but "a sensor network node has a very tiny processor with a simple operating system and no established protocols, software, or standards. So, to some extent, it is like a totally white canvas for a painter starting a new painting: There is no restriction on the researcher's imagination or on importance of the contribution or even established ways of doing things."
Szymanski says the alliance is willing to discuss undergraduate projects for those who would like to try their hand in this type of research.