Computer science engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed wireless sensor networks with software agents that have been able to navigate a robot safely through a simulated fire, and spot a fire by seeking out heat. The sensor networks also can be used to protect containers in a manufacturing environment.

The sensor networks are made up of tiny computers that run on batteries and can sense temperature, magnetism, sound, or other environmental conditions. In the fire scenario, the software "agent" -- a piece of code that is self-contained and mobile -- locates the fire and clones itself, creating a ring of software around the fire. A fireman can communicate with the agent through a PDA to learn where the fire is and how intense it is.

The network can be put in place on warehouse containers, enabling the sensors to communicate with each other, triggering an alarm if, for example, light or vibration is sensed. The manufacturer can then communicate with the network through a PDA.

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