New Research and Work Space, Loaded With Sensors, Is Itself an Ongoing Experiment

By M. Abraham

Tucked into a courtyard filled with trees and lush plantings adjacent to UCLA Engineering’s Boelter Hall, a new 6,000 square foot glass-enclosed space with soaring ceilings and light-filled spaces is more than simply a building or a laboratory – it also functions as its own ongoing research experiment.

Designed to move research beyond the traditional setting, the new building for the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS), is itself appropriately embedded with wireless networked sensor systems that monitor the spaces in which researchers and administrators labor. Sensor systems work quietly throughout the building, collecting data.

Interactive displays in the entry and lobby will welcome visitors to the building and allow them to track ongoing experiments around the world. In every aspect, the modern glass and steel structure is designed to accommodate an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to research and education.

Headquartered at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, CENS researchers are working to build an infrastructure resource for society that monitors and collects information on such diverse subjects as plankton colonies, endangered species, soil and air contaminants, medical patients, and buildings, bridges, and other man-made structures to reveal previously unobservable phenomena.

Like the Internet, researchers envision that these large-scale, distributed systems, composed of smart sensors and actuators embedded in the physical world will infuse the globe at a physical level instead of virtual. The group already has created a research space that’s unlike any other on the UCLA campus.

“Embedded networked sensing systems may ultimately prove to be as important a technology as the Internet, expanding people’s ability to interact with the physical world in revolutionary ways,” said Deborah Estrin, CENS director and computer science professor at UCLA Engineering. “We’re delighted to move into a new space that reflects our research, and that can really showcase our work as a leading center for embedded sensor research.”

CENS held a grand opening celebration for its new building on Thursday, October 26. During the evening, visitors were able to view a small sample of CENS scientific demonstrations.

On Friday, October 27, CENS will continue the celebration by presenting an overview of its work from the past year at its fourth annual public research review. The review will run from 9am to 5:30pm and will be held at the Tom Bradley International Hall on the UCLA campus. Visitors may attend individual sessions or stay for the entire day’s programming.

The Research Review on Friday will showcase a wide variety of CENS research initiatives, and will include a 9:30am keynote address by Joseph Paradiso, the Sony Career Development associate professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Laboratory. Paradiso directs the Responsive Environments group, and co-directed the Things That Think Consortium, a group of industry sponsors and Media Lab researchers who explore the extreme fringe of embedded computation, communication, and sensing.

An interdisciplinary and multi-institutional venture, CENS involves hundreds of faculty, engineers, graduate student researchers, and undergraduate students from multiple disciplines at UCLA and its partner institutions, which include the University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California, University of California, Riverside, California Institute of Technology, and University of California at Merced.

The CENS building opening launches an academic year of unprecedented momentum for the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, which expects to complete a new $56 million engineering building to expand its research and administrative space. The new 60,000 square feet structure, located on Portola Way, will boast five floors of cutting-edge laboratories, seminar rooms, and a number of unique common spaces, and is slated for completion in late spring 2007.