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Updated 9:00 AM April 15, 2009
 

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  Research
New computer language aids use of wireless sensors

A new, simpler programming language for wireless sensor networks is designed for easy use by geologists who may use them to monitor volcanoes and biologists who may rely on them to understand bird-nesting behaviors, for example.

Researchers at U-M and Northwestern University have written the language with the novice programmer in mind.

"Most existing programming languages for wireless sensor networks are a nightmare for nonprogrammers," says Robert Dick, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. "We're working on ways to allow the scientists who actually use the devices to program them reliably without having to hire an embedded systems programming expert."

Finding an embedded systems expert to program a sensor network is difficult and costly and can lead to errors because the person using the network is not the person programming it, Dick says. The cost and disconnect associated with the situation means these networks aren't being used to their full potential.

Lan Bai, a doctoral student in electrical engineering and computer science, will present a paper on the new programming languages today at the Conference on Information Processing in Sensor Networks in St. Louis.

Modern wireless sensor networks, which have become more common in the past five years, allow researchers to monitor variables such as temperature, vibration and humidity in real time at various points across a broad environment.

The sensors range in size from several centimeters across to several inches. Unlike passive radio frequency identification, or RFID tags, these active sensors can compute and communicate with each other through radio.

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