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Friday, January 14, 2011

When Nature is the best teacher

And you thought the fruit fly was just a dirty little pest.

A new study reveals that the fly arranges the hair-like structures of its nervous system to feel and hear. That method now serves as a model for refining wireless sensor networks, among other computer applications.

The fruit fly uses minimal communications without advanced knowledge to arrange the hair-like structures so that a small number of cells emerges as leaders that provide direct connections with every other nerve cell.

This method of organization is simpler than existing systems used to manage the distributed computer networks that perform such functions as searching the Web or controlling airplanes in flight.

A study by the team of scientists, including Ziv Bar-Joseph of Carnegie Mellon University, will be published Friday in the journal Science.

Using the fruit fly as its inspiration, the team produced a distributed computing algorithm that is well suited for networks in which the number and position of nodes is not completely certain. These include wireless sensor networks, such as environmental monitoring, where sensors are dispersed in a lake or waterway, or systems for controlling swarms of robots.

Dr. Bar-Joseph said the algorithm based on the fly's nervous system has produced "a fast solution" to the problem that makes it feasible to use in many network applications.

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