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Unleashed and Unplugged 

Ellen Tani '05
Ellen Tani '05

Last October, leading thinkers in wireless computing came to Hanover for Unleashed, a three-day conference dedicated to the Wi-Fi revolution. Information technology professionals in academia and business joined industry experts to discuss wireless technology and how it is used on campuses nationwide.

Sponsored by Cisco Systems and Intel Corp., and supported by Aeroprise, BearingPoint, Newbury Networks, and Microsoft Research, the conference delved into topics of wireless classroom possibilities, security challenges, campus-use patterns, and bandwidth limitations.

"Universities have played such a leading role in developing the new technology that we are discussing," President James Wright noted in his opening address. "Research, experimentation, innovation-these are things that our faculty do so well, things that are critical to the learning environment. It is also the case that students have pushed digital frontiers in ways they probably cannot do in most other fields of study."

The message, which resonated throughout Unleashed, was that wireless technology is a powerful tool and people are just beginning to tap into it for all sorts of applications. For example, Bob Gray, research engineer at the Thayer School of Engineering and Dartmouth's Institute for Security Technology Studies (ISTS), is using wireless networks to help computers that are not connected to any infrastructure communicate among themselves.

"When soldiers or first responders are in the field, it would be helpful if they had computers that could easily contact each other and send each other information, like location or medical data," explains Gray. "We've been developing and testing routing algorithms that can determine the best path within a network and then deliver information from one computer to another."

In late October, 40 students gathered at Garipay Fields on Lyme Road in Hanover. Each carried a wireless-enabled laptop computer implanted with five different routing programs, or algorithms, designed by several research groups from around the country. At Gray's signal, the students began to move slowly, randomly from one part of the field to another, and the laptops were preprogrammed to send random messages automatically. All the algorithms worked with a basic principal: before messages were delivered, the laptop initiated a "discovery process" aimed at finding the best path to the recipient, which might include jumping through intermediate laptops.

While the students roamed around the field, Gray tested each algorithm, gathering such essential data as whether messages reached their destinations and, if not, where comunication broke down.

"We still need to conduct a detailed analysis, but we've already learned that surprisingly few messages were actually delivered properly," says Gray. "We learned that the obvious discovery techniques don't always work. The algorithms that generated too much data from their discovery packets, for example, used too much bandwidth. Data messages got lost."

This is the last experiment in the project, and analyzing the data will help researchers develop better routing algorithms as well as better techniques for simulating wireless networks to minimize the need for outdoor tests. In addition, the best algorithms identified during this experiment will be used in a number of future projects.

- By Susan Knapp

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Last Updated: 5/30/08