MobiSys 2004: Second International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services, June, 2004, Boston, USA
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Implementing Software on Resource-Constrained Mobile Sensors: Experiences with Impala and ZebraNet

Ting Liu, Christopher M. Sadler, Pei Zhang, and Margaret Martonosi, Princeton University

ZebraNet is a mobile, wireless sensor network in which nodes move throughout an environment working to gather and process information about their surroundings [10]. As in many sensor or wireless systems, nodes have critical resource constraints such as processing speed, memory size, and energy supply; they also face special hardware issues such as sensing device sample time, data storage/access restrictions, and wireless transceiver capabilities. This paper discusses and evaluates ZebraNet's system design decisions in the face of a range of real-world constraints.

Impala -- ZebraNet's middleware layer -- serves as a lightweight operating system, but also has been designed to encourage application modularity, simplicity, adaptivity, and repairability. Impala is now implemented on ZebraNet hardware nodes, which include a 16-bit microcontroller, a low-power GPS unit, a 900MHz radio, and 4Mbits of non-volatile FLASH memory. This paper discusses Impala's operation scheduling and event handling model, and explains how system constraints and goals led to the interface designs we chose between the application, middleware, and firmware layers. We also describe Impala's network interface which unifies media access control and transport control into an efficient network protocol. With the minimum overhead in communication, buffering, and processing, it supports a range of message models, all inspired by and tailored to ZebraNet's application needs. By discussing design tradeoffs in the context of a real hardware system and a real sensor network application, this paper's design choices and performance measurements offer some concrete experiences with software systems issues for the mobile sensor design space. More generally, we feel that these experiences can guide design choices in a range of related systems.