UCLA Extension

Wireless Sensor Networks and Their Tactical Applications

Wireless sensor networks are a new breed of distributed communication/computing systems that provide edge-to-core network connectivity for a variety of sensing devices. The edge devices range from very small tag-like sensors with limited communication and processing capability to more capable sensor gateways that enable interconnection of various valuable assets-such as sensor arrays, vehicles, robotic platforms, unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)-together and to an existing networking infrastructure, such as the Internet. This emerging field is a multidisciplinary area that brings together concepts of wireless communications and ad hoc networking, low-power hardware design, signal processing, distributed computing, and embedded software design.

Complete Details

Distributed wireless sensor networks have a wide variety of applications, such as unattended ground sensors (UGS), sonar and underwater sensor arrays, surveillance and security for border patrol and homeland defense, remote planetary exploration, remote sensing for environmental and wildlife habitat monitoring, and condition-based maintenance.

As described in this course, there are many different applications that a sensor network has to support, some of which may not be known ahead of time. The goal of a good design is to build a responsive autonomous and distributed system that uses its resources with the best-possible economy, to allow the longest lifetime, while maintaining the required level of performance, control, and configurability for the given application under dynamic conditions. Given the unique constraints imposed on the sensor networks, certain design approaches must be adopted when designing such systems. When the individual nodes are battery-operated and communicate using wireless means, the following principles apply:

  • Processing is less expensive than communications
  • Lifetime of the network is extended by duty-cycling power-hungry components
  • Using multi-hop wireless links is useful in many applications

This course is intended for:

  • Hardware system engineers and researchers engaged in wireless sensor node design
  • Managers from companies planning on developing ICs and other components for wireless sensor nodes
  • Wireless system design engineers and researchers engaged in peer-to-peer RF and microwave wireless networks
  • Unattended ground sensor (UGS) system developers, as well as developers of commercial or experimental sensor networks, and technical managers interested in incorporating the latest technologies into their systems
  • Anyone interested in the latest developments in low-power, embedded, wireless sensor networks under consideration by DoD and for homeland security applications

The course provides a basic set of technical tools and insight for analysis and design of such networks. This allows a designer to arrive at the right combination of MIPS, bits/second, and Joules for the desired network.

Following this course, participants should have an understanding of:

  • The unique limitations and requirements encountered in a wireless sensor network, particularly one used for UGS and other ground sensing applications
  • The fundamental physical constraints of wireless surface-to-surface communication
  • How different environments and conditions can affect the reliability of wireless links within peer-to-peer wireless systems
  • How the latest wireless technologies, such as 802.15, 802.11, Bluetooth, and UWB, fit into these constraints and which of these systems may be suitable for a given application
  • The boundary of the types of signal processing, estimation, and detection problems encountered for unattended ground sensor systems
  • The latest network self assembly, MAC, routing, and higher-layer networking protocols developed for ad hoc, multihop wireless networks in the context of wireless sensor net
  • Time synchronization, locationing, and other network services needed
  • Mechanisms for combating link intermittency and to enable delay-tolerant behavior in disruptive communication environments
  • The fundamental constraints placed on hardware design for wireless sensor networks
  • Hardware system architectures used for different classes of wireless sensor nodes
  • The trade-off analysis methods to determine the right choice of hardware architecture for their application based on sensing, processing, communication, and power requirements

Course Materials

The text, Principles of Embedded Networked Systems Design, Gregory Pottie and William J. Kaiser (Cambridge University Press, 2005), and lecture notes are distributed on the first day of the course. The notes are for participants only and are not for sale.

Coordinator and Lecturer

William J. Kaiser, PhD, Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, UCLA. Professor Kaiser’s research has concentrated on the development of distributed networked embedded computing for linking the Internet to the physical world. The applications of this technology that his group has pursued include distributed systems for factory automation, biomedical research, healthcare, space science, security, and defense. His background includes distributed low-power system development, low-power analog and digital electronics, low-power wireless communication systems, and microsensor technology. Professor Kaiser’s teaching efforts include the development of new courses for both undergraduate and graduate programs emphasizing a combination of fundamental concepts and applications to design. A member of the research staff at Ford Motor Company from 1977-1986, his development of automotive sensor and embedded system technology resulted in large-volume commercial sensor production; he also developed the first spectroscopies based on scanning tunneling microscopy. From 1986-1994 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Kaiser developed and demonstrated the first electron tunnel sensors for acceleration and infrared detection, and initiated the NASA/JPL microinstrument program. In 1994, he joined the UCLA faculty where he initiated the distributed networked embedded sensor field via many large collaborative programs across several departments. These combined UCLA research activities have now led to the creation of many new programs within DARPA, NSF, NASA, and in commercial technology corporations. He also served as chairman of the Electrical Engineering Department from 1996-2000. Dr. Kaiser has over 100 publications, 100 invited presentations, and 21 patents. He has received the Allied Signal Faculty Research Award, the Peter Mark Award of the American Vacuum Society, the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, the Arch Colwell Best Paper Award of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and two R&D 100 Awards.


William M. Merrill, PhD, Lead Wireless Architect, Sensoria Corporation, Culver City, California. Dr. Merrill is an expert on wireless propagation in complex environments and the fundamental operational limitations of distributed wireless sensor systems. In conjunction with Sensoria Corporation and DARPA, he has conducted some of the first short-scale range and propagation measurements in real-world environments with portable equipment focusing on FHSS signals in the ISM 2.4GHz band. In addition to investigating propagation issues of FHSS, CW, and UWB signals, Dr. Merrill also has focused both on EMI/EMC considerations in compact systems and on antenna placement and design for small wireless systems. He has recently been intimately involved with the development and deployment of Sensoria’s unattended sensor node systems, including the Self-Healing Minefield wireless sensor system and the WINS NG 2.0 development platform for SensIT. He has worked as a consultant for Bell-Helicopter and is the author or co-author of 30 publications in the areas of wireless sensor networks, wireless propagation, and the electromagnetic properties of complex systems, as well as eight patents.

Fredric Newberg, PhD, Lead Systems Architect, Sensoria Corporation, Culver City, California. With Sensoria Corporation since 1999, Dr. Newberg has focused on system architecture and implementation of embedded systems for defense, industrial monitoring, and automotive applications. He has designed a number of hardware platforms for use in wireless sensor networks, ranging from extremely low-power, compact, wireless sensor devices with multihopping communication capabilities to computationally powerful, modular, embedded computing platforms incorporating 32-bit microprocessors and digital signal processors.

Gregory J. Pottie, PhD, Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, UCLA. Professor Pottie’s research interests include channel coding theory, wireless communication systems, and wireless sensor networks. Current projects include design of robust links in mobile networks and investigation of information theoretic issues in sensor networks. From 1989-1991 he worked in the transmission research department of Motorola/Codex in Canton, Massachusetts, with projects related to voice band modems and digital subscriber lines. From 1997-1999 he was secretary to the board of governors for the IEEE Information Theory Society. In 1998 he was named the faculty researcher of the year for the UCLA School of Engineering and Applied Science. Dr. Pottie is the deputy director of the NSF-sponsored science and technology Center for Embedded Networked Sensors, and is a co-founder of Sensoria Corporation.

Kathy Sohrabi, PhD, Lead Network Architect, Sensoria Corporation, Culver City, California. Dr. Sohrabi’s general area of interest, research, and expertise is wireless and mobile networks. Currently, she is focusing on the design of wireless networking products and solutions for a variety of application areas, including data and streaming applications for MANET and other dynamic topology networks, and Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN). These systems operate in the context of unattended ground sensor systems as well as security and surveillance networks for homeland defense applications. Dr. Sohrabi has previously been associated with Motorola, Rockwell Science Center, and the research center of Daimler-Chrysler AG in Ulm, Germany. She has worked on a wide array of topics related to wireless communications, including characterizing RF propagation channels for the IS-95 cellular network, near-ground RF propagation analysis for low antenna heights in the ISM band, and analysis of frame-synchronization algorithms for OFDM systems for the European Digital Audio Broadcasting System (DAB).

Daily Schedule

Day One

Introduction and Overview of the Field of Sensor Networks
(Kaiser and Pottie)


Low-Power Hardware Design for Sensor Network Platforms

  • Computing hardware
  • Signal processing hardware
  • Communications hardware
  • Sensor interface and signal conditioning circuitry

Day 2


Near-Ground and Non-Line of Sight Propagation (Merrill)

  • Low antenna heights and high-path loss propagation issues
  • Distance and frequency-dependent path loss
  • Foliage and ground clutter effects
  • Terrain effects
  • LPI/LPJ effects
  • Spread spectrum design choices
  • Antenna design for near-ground propagation


Networking and Distributed Computing (Sohrabi)

  • Ad hoc networking for sensor networks: power, latency constraints; information traffic characterization; communications overhead: duty cycling, protocol, packetization, MAC and routing overhead; efficient and scalable MAC, network configuration, and routing protocols; dual radio clustering and multihop networking; impact of the radio and MAC protocol on topology of the network; routing: Layer 2, Layer 3, and higher-layer routing; delay-tolerant networking for sensor networks; duty cycling and node activation mechanisms to ensure coverage, connectivity

Day 3

Sensing and Signal Processing Algorithms for Tactical Applications

  • Detection
  • Classification
  • Tracking
  • Counting
  • Multi-modal intra-node data fusion


Self-Healing Minefield (SHM) System: Detailed Discussion (Merrill and Kaiser)

  • Examples discussion of a developed tactical wireless network sensor system

For more information contact the Short Course Program Office:
shortcourses@uclaextension.edu | (310) 825-3344 | fax (310) 206-2815