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NSF Awards U of M $2.7 Million for Making Wearable Wireless Sensors More Personal University News
For release: December 21, 2009

For press information, contact Dr. Santosh Kumar, 901/678-2487

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a University of Memphis-led research team $2.7 million to study data-management issues related to wearable wireless sensor systems that collect physiological and behavioral measurements for scientific studies from people in their natural environments. 

This is the largest award made by NSF’s Network Science and Engineering (NetSE) Program this year and involves an interdisciplinary team of nine researchers from six universities. 

Led by computer scientist Dr. Santosh Kumar of the University of Memphis, the FieldStream Project also involves three additional computer scientists (Dr. Anind Dey of Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Deepak Ganesan of the University of Massachusetts, and Dr. Jun Xu of Georgia Tech); three electrical and computer engineering experts (Dr. Greg Pottie and Dr. Mani Srivastava, both of UCLA, and Dr. Justin Romberg of Georgia Tech); and two psychologists (Dr. J. Gayle Beck of the U of M  and Dr. Mustafa al’Absi of University of Minnesota).

 “Although several unobtrusively wearable wireless sensor systems have recently been developed for collecting physiological and behavioral data, such as our AutoSense system that collects heart rate, skin conductance, respiration rate, physical activity, etc. for indicating stress levels, obtaining valid data from the natural environment is still a dream,” said Kumar.

The goal of the FieldStream Project is to study and address technical hurdles in realizing this dream.  The team will develop new methods to obtain models of physiological and behavioral phenomena specific to individuals, since wide differences exist in the ways different persons with similar conditions react to various situations. The accurate models will boost the ability of wearable sensors to provide the stringent data quality demanded by scientists who would use such a system, and to enable accurate detection of behavioral events, such as automatically detecting imminent panic attacks or addiction relapse, in real-time, to facilitate timely intervention.

Additionally, the team will develop and apply prudent sampling methods and optimization of wireless communication to extend the operating life of such sensor systems by a factor of more than 50, thus enabling these systems to last several months using self-contained coin cell batteries.   

“The impact of this technology will be far-reaching,” said Dr. Andy Meyers, vice provost for Research at the U of M.  “By making it possible to obtain valid data from the uncontrolled natural environments, FieldStream can help solve several long-standing problems of critical importance to public health. For example, it could help clinicians develop timely interventions to prevent addiction relapse, and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments for addiction, stress, autism, obesity, anxiety disorders, etc., and help psychologists understand the relationship between stress and addiction, among others.”

More information about this project is available online at

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