Researchers Retask Sensor Networks to Detect New Hazards

What if the first responders could quickly and easily reprogram networks to detect new hazard?

Many remote sensor networks already exist for other uses. Some may monitor building temperature or they may be motion sensors. Others may be set up outdoors to track pollutants in a river. What if the first responders could quickly and easily reprogram these networks to detect the new hazard? For instance, maybe they could use a voice command saying that they need to know where the fire is, and the software would reprogram any remote sensors in the area to look for fire. When the emergency was over, the sensor networks would return to what they had been doing originally.

That’s the vision of a team of researchers at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. They hope it will be possible in the future for emergency responders to have specialized software with them for this purpose — built into their helmets. The software could quickly detect and reprogram any remote networks in the area to report, for example, not whether it’s time to turn the lights off but instead on whether a certain part of the building is on fire.

The group is partway through a three-year project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. (The grant could be extended beyond the three years.) The project is called ALERT: An Architecture for the Emergency Re-tasking of Wireless Sensor Networks.


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