Designing Ultra Low-Power Accelerator-Based Systems for Wireless Sensor Networks

April 9, 2009
Interschool Lab, Room 750 CEPSR
Speaker: Mark Hempstead, PhD Candidate, Harvard University


Networks of ultra-low-power nodes capable of sensing, computation, and wireless communication have applications in medicine, science, industrial automation, and security. Over the past few years, deployments of wireless sensor networks (WSNs) have utilized nodes based on off-the-shelf general purpose microcontrollers. Reducing power consumption requires the development of System-on-chip (SoC) implementations that must provide both energy efficiency and adequate performance to meet the demands of the long deployment lifetimes and bursts of computation that characterize WSN applications. This work takes a holistic approach and, thus, studies all layers of the design space, from the applications and architecture, to process technology and circuits.

This talk introduces the emerging application space of wireless sensor networks and describes the motivation and need for a custom system architecture. The proposed design fully embraces the accelerator-based computing paradigm, including acceleration for the network layer (routing) and application layer (data filtering). Moreover, the architecture can disable the accelerators via VDD-gating to minimize leakage current during the long idle times common to WSN applications. We show that the accelerator-based system architecture, implemented in 130nm CMOS, significantly improves energy efficiency and performance when compared to a general-purpose microcontroller. This talk concludes with an appeal for research in accelerator-based architectures for applications beyond WSNs including desktop, server, and mobile spaces.


Mark Hempstead received a BS in Computer Engineering from Tufts University and his MS in Engineering from Harvard University, where he is currently a PhD candidate. He was the winner of the industry sponsored SRC student design contest in 2006. His research interests span multiple disciplines including: power aware computer architecture, low power VLSI design, and wireless sensor networks. While at Harvard, Mark has taught courses in analog electronics, digital logic, engineering design, and engineering courses for non-majors. Over the past three years, he has lived among undergraduates serving as a resident tutor in Lowell House.

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