5 cool wireless research projects worth checking out

A review of 5 cool wireless research projects focused on municipal Wi-Fi, sensor networks and more.

In a paper titled “Architecting Citywide Ubiquitous Wi-Fi Access,” the researchers introduce the idea of convincing current and future Wi-Fi hosts to grant access to legitimate guests whose traffic would be tunneled securely though the network and without hampering the host with any responsibility for it. “We offer this as an economically viable alternative to investing millions in new infrastructure,” the researchers write.

“We argue that citywide ubiquitous Wi-Fi access can be architected at near-zero cost because the network infrastructure is already in place: A majority of city dwellers have a broadband connection and a personal Wi-Fi AP at home,” the paper states. The researchers propose creating a cooperative of trusted Wi-Fi access points that could include implementation of gateways and servers to ensure security.

Treating wireless networks differently from wired

The debate about going with a wired or wireless network remains in full swing (See “Wireless LANs vs. Wired LANs: One of Networking’s 50 Greatest Arguments"), but a perhaps lesser-known debate is whether to use old-fashioned wired network technologies to support wireless networks or to come up with new architectures suited specifically for wireless. MIT researchers Sachin Katti and Dina Katabi (we’ve tracked her wireless-boosting efforts in the past) support the latter in  research outlined in a paper issued in September titled “MIXIT: The Network Meets the Wireless Channel.”

The researchers claim their approach can boost throughput by four times over state-of-the-art opportunistic routing schemes, which are prone to dropping whole packets if even a few bits come through incorrectly. They say these opportunistic routing schemes work fine in wired networks, but not wireless ones. “MIXIT increases network throughput by building on the inherent characteristics of the wireless medium; it embraces wireless broadcast and exploits both space and time diversities,” the paper states.

Seeking more energy-efficient sensor networks

A trio of University of California at Berkeley researchers say there is beauty in procrastination -- as in networked sensors that wait as long as they can to send data back to the program or person who needs access to it. But such delays won’t gratify users of all sensor networks, such as those relying on polled and schedule protocols.

In a paper titled “Procrastination Might Lead to a Longer and More Useful Life” the researchers acknowledge that loads of attention has been paid to making wireless sensor networks more energy efficient through improved operating systems, storage and communication. Their research focuses on ways to reduce synchronization costs and on exploiting the batching of data, as well as compression, without adversely affecting system users. While they find there could be some benefits to delayed communications, they also discovered challenges, such as figuring out how to establish routing schemes on the fly once sensors are waked up.

DARPA’s adaptive battlefield wireless plan

A new Department of Defense project is trying to use cutting-edge wireless research to create a tactical radio network that can adapt to keep soldiers linked with one another on the battlefield.

Project WAND (for Wireless Adaptive Network Development) will exploit commercial radio components rather than custom ones, and use a variety of software techniques and algorithms, many of them only just now emerging in mature form. These $500 walkie-talkie-size radios will form large-scale, peer-to-peer ad hoc networks, which can shift frequencies, sidestep interference and handle a range of events that today completely disrupt wireless communications.

WAND is an attempt to create low-cost radios with intelligent network software that does several things to make communications more pervasive, more efficient and more reliable in the battlefield. Read more about this project here

Security architecture emerges for first responders

Princeton University researchers say they have come up with a new way to transmit crucial rescue information securely to first responders to such situations as natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The new architecture supports what Princeton electrical engineering professor Ruby Lee calls "transient trust" – that is, the ability to swap sensitive data, such as floor plans of a building or personal medical information, securely on an as-needed basis. A paper called "Hardware-rooted Trust for Secure Key Management and Transient Trust" has been authored by ex-HP computer architect Lee (who leads the Princeton Architecture Lab for Multimedia and Security [PALMS]) and graduate student Jeffrey Dwoskin. The paper describes outfitting such devices as the handheld computers used by first responders with elements dubbed a "device root key" and a "storage root hash" to enable temporary access to information.

Read more on the project here.

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