CITRIS technology can aid anti-terrorism efforts
Director updates UC Board of Regents on center’s progress one year out

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

20 March 2002 | A year ago, as California battled an energy crisis, researchers involved in the new Berkeley-led Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) were able to apply their expertise to the development of tiny sensors capable of turning power on and off autonomously.

This year, the researchers may be turning their attention to another pressing societal problem — homeland security — Ruzena Bajcsy, CITRIS director, told the UC Regents in a progress report on one of UC’s new California Institutes of Science and Innovation.

“This has truly been a year of accomplishment for CITRIS,” she said at the March 13 regents meeting in San Francisco. “Who would have thought that the development of CITRIS would have been not just a good idea but critical to the state, the country and the entire world?”

Since Sept. 11, 2001, CITRIS technologies have been viewed with a potentially new application in mind: they could be used to advance homeland security and to help fight the war against terrorism, Bajcsy said.

Harnessing information
“Societal-scale information systems must be able to harness vast amounts of information in order to respond to problems,” Bajcsy said. They will form the “backbone” of global communication systems in the future and they will have to be “resilient to attack.”

“Smart dust” sensors, expected to be as small as bits of dust someday, are the building blocks of the CITRIS sensing network that was installed to monitor energy usage on campus last year. It is these networks of tiny sensors that could be used to monitor enemy movement or detect the presence of hazardous chemicals in war zones.

Developed by Berkeley electrical engineering professor Kris Pister and a team of researchers, the modules are currently about ten cubic millimeters in size and cost about $8,000 each to build. The goal is to reduce their size to about one millimeter and produce them in mass quantities to bring down the cost. Bajcsy said they will eventually be manufactured for about $70 per sensor.

Each sensor is like a little wireless computer, with a radio chip and batteries, that can generate information about the environment continuously. The tiny operating systems make the sensors “smart” and give each unit the ability to operate autonomously.

Monitoring the environment
The information technologies can be applied to a variety of environmental problems, such as controlling traffic congestion, measuring the movement of buildings during an earthquake or helping technicians maintain heating and cooling systems in office buildings. With continued development, Bajcsy said they will make their mark in the health care industry and in distance education.

Bajcsy said the sensors were recently tested on an experimental apartment building at Berkeley’s shake table at Richmond Field Station. The structure was shaken to simulate a 6.7-magnitude earthquake, like the one that struck Northridge, Calif., in 1994. The sensors have also been tested along a highway in the Southern California desert to detect movement on the road, and they could be placed on freeway on-ramps to monitor traffic flow, she said.

Bajcsy reported that fellowships for students to work on CITRIS are being established. She said Berke-ley needs to be aggressive in its efforts to build collaborative research partnerships between the insitute and industry.

The state of California has pledged to invest $100 million in each of the California Institutes for Science and Innovation over the next four years, and the state has challenged UC and industry to match every dollar provided by California with at least two dollars in non-state funding.

CITRIS is a collaboration among Berkeley and three other UC campuses: Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz. More than $170 million in support from corporate and private donors has been pledged to the new center to date.


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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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