Mote Runner


Dedicated data-gathering IT networks, such as those underlying delivery tracking system, for instance, have shown the commercial value of real-time control of real-world components. Building on this, more generalized applications for wireless sensor networks (WSN) are becoming increasingly apparent and significant in size and real-world relevance. Conceptually, the broadest application categories for WSNs provide access and immediate reactions to environmental information, as well as a flexible communication and intelligence-gathering infrastructure to serve, for example, next-generation business applications that directly tap into the ever greater number of digitally-enabled sensors and actuators that provide input to the operation.

Yet, to unlock this potential, two first-order problem categories must be addressed. The first one is the problem of cost: WSNs consist of numerous small computing elements that have to be cost-optimized. In this realm, cost takes the form of up-front investments into hardware and software, plus subsequent expenses such as maintenance. The former directly translates into hardware costs and, therefore, calls for very efficient software running on the least expensive and cost-effective off-the-shelf chips. The latter translates into design requirements for minimum hardware interaction after mote deployment (e.g., for manual battery change or system reconfiguration).

The second problem category is technological: A WSN run-time environment must not only be able to cope with the broad range of technical challenges imposed on WSNs, it must also be accessible beyond the low-level functionality of individual WSN nodes. In this context, “accessible” again means basically two things. First, the WSN must be much more easily programmable without deep knowledge of WSN technology and components themselves. Second, it must be possible to dynamically configure and reconfigure the WSN in the field to deal with situations such as interrupted communication or WSN node failures. Only then will real-world aware systems become possible that link the physical world of sensors and actuators with business processes and applications.

The IBM Mote Runner run-time environment for WSNs tackles these challenges in a holistic manner. At its core, Mote Runner is designed to run on very small, standard, embedded controllers, including low-power 8-bit processors, thereby reducing both initial investments as well as post-deployment and maintenance costs. It provides a high-level, language-friendly, resource-efficient and high-performance virtual machine that shields portable applications from hardware specifics. In addition, Mote Runner allows programmers to use object-oriented programming languages such as Java and a development environment based on Eclipse to develop portable WSN applications that may be dynamically distributed, loaded, updated, and deleted even after the WSN hardware has been deployed.

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement No 257521 (IoT-A).