BU, UMASS to Collaborate on Sensor Networks

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Boston University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst are teaming up on a project that aims to control and optimize sensor networks.

Manufacturing businesses could use such networks for inventory maintenance or equipment tracking, while sensors for chemical and biological substances could be used to monitor the safety of work environments or food products.

Christos Cassandras, a professor of manufacturing engineering and electrical and computer engineering at the Boston University College of Engineering, is leading a team of investigators who want to optimize battery efficiency in sensors and improve their collaboration capacity.

Cassandras is a former UMass professor and frequently collaborates with colleagues from that university.

The team has been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Design, Manufacturing and Industrial Innovation. The grant officially began Sept. 1, 2003.

“The proposal (for the NSF grant) was submitted jointly,” Cassandras said. “Team grants are not uncommon, and we needed many different skills for this project.”

Weibo Gong, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMass, said, “We have collaborated on several projects, and we will meet regularly to exchange ideas and make sure we work as a team.”

The BU/UMass team will focus on sensor networks that consist of thousands of tiny, information-gathering sensors that have diverse functions but work collaboratively to monitor a variety of physical processes or systems, according to a statement from BU.

“Sensors are used in everyday life,” Cassandras said. “The limitation is that they can’t share data or decision-making ability. We want to build a network of sensors that can share information.”

One possible implementation of this technology could be to monitor the performance of appliances.

“Sensors could be used to detect failure (in an appliance),” Cassandras said, “and with wireless technology, they could send a message to the store where you got it, and the store could get in touch with the owner before a problem even starts.”

John Baillieul, a BU professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, said, “(In coming years) all major manufactured products will have sensors on them to keep track of the condition and let the people who use them know when service is needed.”

These collaborative sensor networks could be used to locate personnel in large complexes or offer information to authorities during fires or other disasters.

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