Director: Boleslaw K. Szymanski, Computer Science
Associate Directors: Alhussein Abouzeid, Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, and Bulent Yener, Computer Science
Program Home Page: http://www.rpi.edu/cpcn
A multidisciplinary group of researchers from the Schools of Engineering and Science has come together in Rensselaer’s Center for Pervasive Computing and Networking to collaborate on projects that contribute to the goal of pervasive computing. This vision foresees a world in the not-distant future in which computer systems are embedded in everything: from personal digital assistants to implanted biological devices, to bridge-monitoring systems, and to teams of robots sent into a collapsed building to locate survivors. Untethered—wireless—communication is pervasive and, in many cases, so automated that human intervention is unneeded. Wireless, broadband community systems inexpensively bring people together for virtual town meetings, video doctor-patient conferences, and on-line business transactions. Computers in automobiles share information on congestion, quickly computing alternate routes. The promises are immense, but the challenges are formidable. Some of the major research areas currently pursued by the researchers in the Center are listed below.
Research Innovations and Initiatives
Grids and Worldewide Computing
As workstations and desktop computers gain power and increasing numbers are connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, a movement has arisen to create both formal and ad hoc networks in which users combine their computing power, utilizing idle time on machines ranging from individual desktops and PCs to clusters of PCs to supercomputers to form parallel processors capable of tackling very large problems. To achieve these goals, advances are needed in many areas, including programming and protocols for parallel processing, tracking and accessing widely distributed pieces of data, and routing messages over a constantly changing and sometimes unreliable network. Although grid computing has made a lot of progress in recent years through projects such as Globus, the focus in Rensselaer’s Center is on more dynamic and autonomous environments in which task allocation, migration, and fault tolerance are supported automatically.
Without serious attention to security issues, the world of pervasive computing could turn rapidly from dream to nightmare, in which on-line criminals and terrorists steal private information, destructively attack individual computers and entire networks, and send damaged and dangerous programs to unprotected systems. Center researchers are investigating use of data mining systems, finite state finite automata augmented with probabilities, bioinformatics techniques, normally used to match DNA sequences, and recursive data mining to detect variations from the user’s normal behavior. They are also exploring the use of generic code-carrying proofs as a secure and memory-stingy method of sending programming code. Another group is working on security for an ad hoc wireless system and identifying security gaps and designing protection against specific attacks in the Border Gateway Protocol.
Center researchers have developed very efficient methods to run simulations to detect problems on computer networks and then to apply traffic management techniques to solve these problems. Their goals are to reduce congestion, automate many management tasks, and improve quality of service. They use these simulations to optimize very complex systems. They are developing BANANAS, an Internet architectural framework, that gives messages more flexibility in the routes they choose, and working on overlay systems that can deliver very reliable broadband services to groups of users. Another team developed Genesis (The General Network Simulation Integration System), which divides a large network or even the entire Internet into domains and runs a simulation of each over a given time interval on a separate processor. The processors then exchange information and run new simulations for the time interval until they converge on a solution.
Unlike cell phone systems, in which messages travel by way of fixed towers, devices in ad hoc wireless systems communicate directly with each other. They pass messages from node to node as needed, even as some devices move around and others unpredictably come on- or off-line, creating a constant need to find new routes for messages. Rensselaer researchers are working on all levels of the technology to make such networks efficient and reliable. The new approaches include using microelectronics techniques to create a multi-hop optical wireless system and using radio frequency (RF) and optical techniques to build an inexpensive and easily accessible community network around the Rensselaer campus. Center teams are also working on distributed networks of sensors and actuators, developing methods through which groups of cameras can exchange information and work together, and developing techniques for distributed groups of robots to communicate and cooperate.