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HotOS X, Tenth Workshop on Hot Topics in Operating Systems — Abstract

Towards a Sensor Network Architecture: Lowering the Waistline

David Culler, Prabal Dutta, Cheng Tien Ee, Rodrigo Fonseca, Jonathan Hui, Philip Levis, and Joseph Polastre, University of California, Berkeley; Scott Shenker, University of California, Berkeley, and ICSI; Ion Stoica and Gilman Tolle, University of California, Berkeley; Jerry Zhao, ICSI


Wireless sensor networks have the potential to be tremendously beneficial to society. Embedded sensing will enable new scientific exploration, lead to better engineering, improve productivity, and enhance security. Research in sensor networks has made dramatic progress in the past decade, bringing these possibilities closer to reality. Hardware, particularly radio technology, is improving rapidly, leading to cheaper, faster, smaller, and longer-lasting nodes. Many systems challenges, such as robust multihop routing, effective power management, precise time synchronization, and efficient in-network query processing, have stable and compelling solutions. Several complete applications have been deployed that demonstrate all of these research accomplishments integrated into a coherent system, including some at relatively large scale.

But the situation in sensornets, while promising, also has problems. The literature presents an alphabet soup of protocols and subsystems that make widely differing assumptions about the rest of the system and how its parts should interact. The extent to which these parts can be combined to build usable systems is quite limited. In order to produce running systems, research groups have produced vertically integrated designs in which their own set of components are specifically designed to work together, but are unable to interoperate with the work of others. This inherent incompatibility greatly reduces the synergy possible between research efforts and impedes progress.

It is the central tenet of this paper that the primary factor currently limiting research progress in sensornets today is not any specific technical challenge (though many remain, and deserve much further study) but is instead the lack of an overall sensor network architecture. Such an architecture would identify the essential services and their conceptual relationships. Such a decomposition would make it possible to compose components in a manner that promotes interoperability, transcends generations of technology, and allows innovation.

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