Date of Award

Summer 2008

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science

Committee Director

Stephan Olariu

Committee Director

Larry Wilson

Committee Member

Irwin Levinstein

Committee Member

Chunsheng Xin

Committee Member

Douglas Nark


Research in wireless sensor networks has accelerated rapidly in recent years. The promise of ubiquitous control of the physical environment opens the way for new applications that will redefine the way we live and work. Due to the small size and low cost of sensor devices, visionaries promise smart systems enabled by deployment of massive numbers of sensors working in concert. To date, most of the research effort has concentrated on forming ad hoc networks under centralized control, which is not scalable to massive deployments. This thesis proposes an alternative approach based on models inspired by biological systems and reports significant results based on this new approach. This perspective views sensor devices as autonomous organisms in a community interacting as part of an ecosystem rather than as nodes in a computing network. The networks that result from this design make local decisions based on local information in order for the network to achieve global goals, thus we must engineer for emergent behavior in wireless sensor networks. First we implemented a simulator based on cellular automata to be used in algorithm development and assessment. Then we developed efficient algorithms to exploit emergent behavior for finding the average of distributed values, synchronizing distributed clocks, and conducting distributed binary voting. These algorithms are shown to be convergent and efficient by analysis and simulation. Finally, an extension of this perspective is used and demonstrated to provide significant progress on the noise abatement problem for jet aircraft. Using local information and actions, optimal impedance values for an acoustic liner are determined in situ providing the basis for an adaptive noise abatement system that provides superior noise reduction compared with current technology and previous research efforts.


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