Nebraska Engineering Fall, 2005
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The Future of Nebraska Engineering
Sensing and Communications

People increasingly rely on technology to work, to play and to communicate. University of Nebraska–Lincoln researchers are keeping humans connected by conducting vital research in high-speed Internet protocols, computer security, wireless communications, satellite technology and telecommunications.

High-speed network architecture and wireless communications protocols are Hamid Sharif’s specialties. The computer engineering professor is using the Internet2 platform to develop the next generation of Internet architecture for real-time applications such as streaming TV channels with broadcast quality and content-based indexing and video searching. Sharif says this technology will provide contents detection and indexing of media streams in real time. Sharif also is developing an energy-efficient communication protocol for wireless sensor networks. The technology is designed for mobile environments where energy conservation is key.The idea is that this technology will allow people to stay in their homes longer, live more safely, and improve their quality of life. -Lance Perez

In applications ranging from robotic highway markers to helping farmers manage the impact of drought, computer scientist Steve Goddard is applying basic computer science research to real-world problems. One example of his work is energy-aware computing, which is aimed at saving as much energy as possible while still providing the bandwidth needed for processing or communications. This has important applications in embedded sensor systems, which are critical elements in many technologies, he said. “Embedded sensor systems run on batteries, and the system is only functional as long as the batteries are good,” Goddard said. “Our work focuses on maximizing the life of the battery while still meeting all of the system needs.”

New challenges come with new technology. Byrav Ramamurthy, computer science and engineering, is developing software tools for system administrators to use in preventing the abuse of wireless networks, which have introduced the concept of war driving. War driving is a phenomenon in which someone can gain access to deployed wireless networks by roaming around and scanning wireless channels to find vulnerable networks. “The more people convert to wireless networks, the bigger this problem will become,” Ramamurthy said. “And the higher level of encryption you use, the more resistant your network will be to attacks.”

Sebastian Elbaum, associate professor of computer science and engineering, is researching ways to make computer programs easier for typical users to manipulate and debug without special training. He is a member of the End Users Shaping Effective Software (EUSES) Consortium—a partnership among researchers at UNL, Oregon State, Carnegie Mellon, Drexel, Penn State and Cambridge. The consortium received a $2.65 million Information Technology Research award from the National Science Foundation to improve software for end users.

Wireless communications is Lance Pérez’s area of specialty. The associate professor of electrical engineering is creating new wireless communications systems that can be used in rehabilitative and assistive technology applications. His goal is to create an inexpensive wireless sensor network that provides medical monitoring and environmental control in elderly or disabled people’s homes. An intelligent sensor network that tracks their movements and behaviors could give voice prompts to help people navigate their homes or remind them to perform daily tasks. “The idea is that this technology will allow people to stay in their homes longer, live more safely, and improve their quality of life,” Dr. Pérez says.

Dennis Alexander, Kingery Professor of Electrical Engineering, is helping scientists uncover the mysteries of outer space. Alexander is trying to catch a shooting star with aerogel, a lightweight silica material that is 99.8 percent air. NASA uses aerogel in space missions to collect interstellar and comet dust particles. “Scientists want to analyze these materials because it will give us a better understanding of the composition of comets,” Alexander said.
Future Eye