'

A ring of robots to fight fires

Computer scientists in St. Louis have developed a new kind of software to monitor wireless sensor networks. For example, their software agents can help robots to navigate through simulated fires. Their real innovation is that their software agents are able to clone themselves, creating a ring of software around the fire.

Computer scientists at the Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) have developed a new kind of software to monitor wireless sensor networks. For example, their software agents can help robots to navigate through simulated fires. Their real innovation is that their software agents are able to clone themselves, creating a ring of software around the fire. This very flexible approach to monitoring wireless sensor networks could be used in a wide variety of applications, like safeguarding containers in a warehouse -- or on boats. But read more...

Here is an excerpt from the WUSTL news release.

Researchers here are using wireless sensor networks that employ software agents that have been able to navigate a robot through a simulated fire and spot said fire by seeking out heat. Once the agent locates the fire, it clones itself – try that, James Bond -- creating a ring of software around the fire. A "fireman" can then communicate with this multifaceted agent through a personal digital assistant (PDA) and learn where the fire is and how intense it is. Should the fire expand, the agents clone again and maintain the ring – an entirely different "ring of fire."

This software has been developed by Gruia-Catalin Roman, professor of computer science, in his Mobile Computing Laboratory, with the help of Chenyang Lu, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, and Roman's doctoral student Chien-Liang Fok.

But let's see at how their Agilla software works.By the way, Agilla is dubbed as "the first middleware supporting mobile agents in wireless sensor networks." Any other contenders?

Below is an overview of the Agilla's fire tracking application. "A fire detection agent detects fire and clones itself (1). The clone transforms itself into a fire tracking agent that repeatedly clones itself until a perimeter has been formed. Once formed, the agents continuously adjust the perimeter by migrating and cloning themselves. A notification is sent to a fire fighter notifying him of the fire's location (2). The fire fighter injects a guidance agent into the network that leads the fire fighter along a safe route to the fire (3). (Credit: WUSTL)

The Agilla's fire tracking application

And here is a picture of Aristo, the Washington University robot, which uses "sensor networks to avoid simulated 'fire' -- red cups -- while navigating near 'safe' areas, which are blue cups." (Credit: WUSTL) Here are two links to a larger version and to a short movie of Aristo in action.

The Aristo robot

But will this kind of software be useful in the future? The researchers are -- logically -- enthusiast.

"What researchers are banking on is that sensor networks will be so cheap to make that they can be employed on a very large scale," said Roman. "This way you can spread hundreds and thousands of them around gathering data and communicating."
"This is fascinating software, and this technology is opening up, and we have no idea where it's going to go," Roman said. "Right now, wireless sensor networks are allowing us to explore the future."

These are certainly interesting developments, but I think that Roman is a little bit too much optimistic.

Anyway, the WUSTL news release contains several links to various publications about this project -- and related ones. If you don't have the time to read them all, but are interested in the subject, please take a look at "Mobile Agent Middleware for Sensor Networks: An Application Case Study" (PDF format, 7 pages, 476 KB).

Sources: Washington University in St. Louis, November 9, 2006, via EurekAlert!; and various web pages at WUSTL

You'll find related stories by following the links below.