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IEEE Africon 2011 - The Falls Resort and Conference Centre, Livingstone, Zambia, 13 - 15 September 2011

A Survey of Wireless Sensor Network Testbeds


L.P. Steyn, G.P. Hancke
Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering
University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Email: leonsteyn@tuks.co.za, gerhard.hancke@up.ac.za

Abstract—During the past decade research in Wireless Sensor III. T ESTBEDS


Networks has drawn heavy interest. For researchers to verify
their research a testbed is an extremely valuable tool. This paper A. General Testbed Designs
presents a survey documenting a selection of the best testbeds that The most common WSN testbeds are deployed indoors
have been developed for WSN evaluation. Laboratory testbeds
and real world deployments are discussed and future work to be
at academic institutions for easy access by researchers. By
done on WSN testbeds is proposed. deploying a testbed in an indoor location, a controlled envi-
ronment, shielded from outside interference is created. This
I. I NTRODUCTION ensures repeatable experiments and easier maintenance. The
most popular architecture is based on a central management
Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) is a popular field of database that can control a deployment of WSN motes. These
study with exciting potential applications. An essential instru- testbeds usually consist of a network of motes, a back-
ment for any researcher in a new field is accurate performance channel for testbed management connectivity, a database for
measurement tools that can be used to test and verify any data logging and a management software application with
new design. Most WSN research has been done by testing the a graphical user interface (GUI). The network management
developed protocols and applications on simulators. It has been software performs tasks such as scheduling of motes for exper-
shown that simulated results have been inaccurate and a need iments, controlling the topology of the network, programming
for improved performance tools has been identified. This has motes with source code, debugging of faulty networks and the
sparked the design and implementation of a number of WSN analysis and visualisation of data.
testbeds by researchers from across the globe. Various real life Some extra features are also common in WSN testbeds. The
WSNs have also been implemented for specific applications first is the support of multimedia nodes. Most WSMN testbeds
and studied extensively. Each WSN testbed or real world have integrated webcams and microphones for specific testing
application has its own specific strengths and weaknesses. of protocols that are designed with high bandwidth media
This paper will attempt to summarise the best available WSN applications in mind. Second is the support of mobile nodes to
testbeds and classify them accordingly. facilitate testing of various localisation techniques and other
mobile applications of WSNs. These are usually implemented
II. R ELATED W ORK with a robot that’s motion can be controlled in a repeatable
Previous research has also been conducted to create surveys fashion or a train that moves on a predetermined track. Thirdly,
on existing WSN testbeds. [1] describes the wider field of most testbeds use built-in power consumption metrics supplied
mobile ad hoc network testbeds. In this work testbeds and on mote platforms to estimate power consumption. Others
emulators are characterized according to their functionality use specialised hardware that can probe specific hardware
and modelling ability. A WSN testbed with mobile nodes are level input and output pins to ensure high accuracy energy
described and special attention is given to wireless channel consumption data. Lastly, the addition of some portable motes
modelling. [2] briefly describes three of the most popular give the ability to conduct experiments in different wireless
testbeds, but its focus is more a general survey of WSNs. environments.
[3] is the most complete summary of WSN performance The following sections describe different testbeds according
metric tools. Simulators, emulators and physical testbeds are to their features. Table I provides a direct comparison high-
analyzed and the importance of a complete testing environment lighting the main characteristics of each testbed.
including all these tools is emphasized. Lastly [4] describes
the specialised field of Wireless Multimedia Sensor Network B. Server Based Control
(WMSN) testbeds and applications. It gives an extensive This section describes larger server based testbeds. These
summary of WMSNs and existing testbeds with multimedia are typically fixed testbed deployments with a central back-
capabilities. This investigation attempts to focus on the differ- end with various servers supporting the management and data
ent architectures of testbeds that are available for researchers logging functionality. An interface device is used to supply
to assist them in choosing the best suited to their research. This the USB or serial port needed to connect to the motes. These
paper covers a wider selection of testbeds and more detail than devices can perform some processing of data and network
any of the above studies. management functions, but most importantly they supply the

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IEEE Africon 2011 - The Falls Resort and Conference Centre, Livingstone, Zambia, 13 - 15 September 2011

Ethernet or WiFi back-end to the management servers. The the back-end. Accurate and repeatable robot mobility control
advantage of these deployments is that they usually have many functions are built into the testbed and can be accessed re-
resources and can support large scale experiments. Mostly they motely by researchers. A ceiling mounted visual robot tracking
will also be integrated with a web server and sophisticated system ensures accurate location data of the robots that can
scheduling and tasking software that will enable multiple users be used to evaluate WSN localisation protocols. Remote users
to remotely use the testbed. As a result of their size they may can also visually monitor their experiments through webcams
be vulnerable to high maintenance and are costly to install. overlooking the area where the robots move.
They can also prove to be inflexible as the sensing environment
stays constant. C. Single PC Based Control
Motelab [5] was one of the very first fully developed This section describes WSN testbeds that use a single
WSN testbeds. It is an open source tool that is available on PC as the central point of the testbed, incorporating all
the Internet to any registered user. All Motelab code is also the management and data storage functions. Typically such
available for institutions to build their own testbeds. It consists deployments will use a serial or USB back-channel connection
of a MySQL back-end server, a PHP web server, a Java based to interface directly with the motes. These testbeds are usually
data logger and a Job Daemon that assigns experiments to more flexible and can be adapted to certain scenarios more
networked motes. MicaZ motes are connected to an Ethernet easily. Sometimes they are not installed in a fixed position and
interface board to gain access to the back-channel. can be redeployed with relative ease. However, in general they
Kansei [6], [7] is a hybrid simulation and testbed platform do not scale well and they also tend to have limited features
that can be used to test WSNs at scale. It supports a 210 node with no remote access or support for simultaneous users.
sensor array. Each with a mote connected to an auxiliary Linux LabVIEW Testbed [11] is based on off the shelf compo-
based Stargate platform that acts as a controller and data col- nents to create an affordable and user-friendly WSN testbed.
lector. Each node is connected to an Ethernet back-channel that A user interface and system management tool was developed
allows for communication with the central server or so-called using the popular LabVIEW programming environment. It
Director that can schedule tasks, configure nodes and perform gives the user a high level view of the network and removes the
management operations. The testbed also supports mobile complexity of programming directly on the TinyOS platform.
nodes and has a smaller, portable section of nodes that can be This interface program is installed on a central PC. Once motes
relocated to a new environment. Hybrid simulation techniques are programmed individually through a RS-232 interface, the
are implemented using the physical radio communications of LabVIEW application can record and visualise all testbed
the testbed as input to a PC based simulator. Kansei has data in real time. The actual testbed consists of two separate
been designed to be highly fault tolerant, autonomic, self- networks, each with a base station mote connected to the
healing and self-managing, ensuring researchers spend less central PC through a serial interface. The first is configured
time troubleshooting the large network. with 15 MicaZ motes in a multi-hop architecture and the
ORBIT [8] is a radio grid network testbed developed by second with 8 Cricket motes in a single hop to the base station
Rutgers University. It was designed to serve as an evaluation configuration. 4 of the MicaZ motes are installed on Arconame
tool for a broad range of next generation wireless network Garcia or Cybermotion robots that provide controlled mobility.
protocols. It has multiple back-end services that can control the The Cricket motes can be carried by humans to act as dynamic,
testbed through an Ethernet back-channel interface. It supports unknown input sources to tracking experiments for the first
mobile nodes, is robust against failures and can be used to network.
test multiple radio technologies. It also has a controllable RF SignetLab [12] relies on a tiered USB hub and cabling
interference source that can act on the testbed. scheme connected to a single Control PC to manage a grid
Mobile Emulab [9] also called TrueMobile [10] was the of 48 EyesIFXv2 motes. A Java based software application
first remotely accessible mobile WSN network testbed. It was installed on the control PC supplies a GUI to reprogram
built by expanding on the extensive Emulab generic network motes, change the topology and analyse testbed data. In a
evaluation testbed. It provides a web front end that can manage novel approach to save space the nodes are suspended from
testbed resources and schedule experiments. Users can submit the ceiling in a room that is still used for its original purpose.
code that can control the network topology, program motes and Sensi-uu [13] is a relocatable mobile sensor network.
schedule start and stop intervals. The core of the testbed in- Instead of using a wired back-channel it uses a wireless control
cludes data storing and various back-end services. The generic channel. A Site Manager PC connects to multiple sensor host
Emulab environment also gives access to other networking boards over an IEEE 802.11 WiFi channel. The Site Manager
testbeds and thousands of connected desktop computers that PC has a Vendetta Software application that can manage
can be used as extra nodes in experiments. The mobile testbed the testbed, visualise data and control experiments. Sensor
is deployed in an L shaped space with a network of 35 static hosts are heterogeneous nodes that are controlled by the Site
motes with Ethernet connected interface boards. However the Manager and connect to the motes. Various smartphones, with
main feature of the testbed is the Arconame Garcia robots that specifically designed software, are used to accomplish this
are fitted with Stargate control boards, MicaZ sensor nodes role including a Linux based FreeRunner device, a Symbian
and a WiFi interface card that acts as the control channel to based Nokia N95 and an Android based HTC Hero. Each

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IEEE Africon 2011 - The Falls Resort and Conference Centre, Livingstone, Zambia, 13 - 15 September 2011

smartphone also includes its own sensors like accelerometers, MoteMaster [16] uses a slim software installation called
video cameras and microphones that can be incorporated in the Mote Manager on several desktop computers to extend the
experiments. The motes connect to the sensor host through reach of the network. Each desktop has a small deployment of
the USB interface from where they communicate with the Site TelosB motes connected through a USB hub and cables. The
Manager during experiments. The motes still use their own Mote Manager is connected through its Ethernet interface to
IEEE 802.15 radios for experiments and specific channels were a central relational database that can program motes, dispatch
chosen so that no interference is caused between the control experiments and retrieve experimental data. Users access the
and experiment channels. For mobility the testbed uses an off relational database through a Matlab OBDC interface. In the
the shelf Lego NXT robot that can be programmed to follow paper only a small demo deployment is described and the
a taped track with enough precision to conduct repeatable scalability of this architecture is not confirmed.
experiments. Experiments are conducted where static nodes WSNTB [17] originally supports central management of
track the mobile node with high precision. The whole testbed their custom develop Octopus I and II motes through a Ether-
setup is completely portable and can be relocated to different net back-channel that connects to a back-end of various servers
testbed environments. with extensive software capabilities. Users can reprogram
motes, control experiments and access data remotely through a
D. Hybrid Testbeds web interface. This testbed was improved and renamed UTSB
The testbeds in this section follow a hybrid approach using [18] where the central management server was replaced with
the best of both worlds. A central server is used but the testbed individual network manager PCs. Only the central database has
is dependent on separate gateway devices that perform signif- remained to store and collect data. Each network Manager PC
icant management and control functions and supply back-end is connected to smaller deployments of nodes and performs a
connectivity to the motes. This architecture is typically more distributed management function. The ability to monitor pin
scalable as new gateways can be added to extend the network level energy consumption and operation time measurements
capability. has also been included. The testbed has been expanded to
TWIST [14] is designed as a scalable and flexible indoor another site and now includes a total of 62 motes.
testbed. The testbed consists of a central server, control PCs
and gateway nodes that are all connected through a Ethernet E. Multiple Site Testbeds
back-channel. These gateway or so-called super nodes are A drawback of many testbeds is that they are confined to
Network Link Storage Units (NSLU) running a customised a single, fixed environment that does not offer variation. One
Linux OS with USB interfaces. USB hubs and cables are way to solve this problem is to extend a testbed even further
used to connect to the actual mote network. To extend the to support multiple sites. This section describes two testbeds
reach of the network a combination of passive (up to 5 m that are deployed over multiple sites and are still controlled
in length) and active (up to 15 m in length) USB cables are from a central location.
used. Each USB cable endpoint is defined as a socket with X-Sensor [19] is a large sensor network deployment cov-
a unique identifier in the management software. A central ering four sites at Japanese Universities. Three sites have
PostqreSQL server is used to store application and debug data. a network of 10 MicaZ motes and the main site in Osaka
A Linux based control PC with customised software is used has multiple individual sites with a total of 148 motes. Each
to manage the network and conduct experiments. Up to 180 site has a gateway that connects to a central testbed server
heterogeneous motes can be deployed by plugging them into that controls the entire deployment. Users can access the
the socket end points as long as they have USB interfaces and testbed remotely through a web interface where they can
support TinyOS. The testbed also supports flat, hierarchical program motes, define topologies by choosing specific nodes
or segmented architectures depending on the roles assigned to and schedule experiments. The gateway also stores all the
different motes and super nodes. sensor data even when the testbed is not being used for
The IBM WSN Testbed [15] was developed at IBM’s experiments. This vast data set can be accessed by users at
Zurich Research Laboratory. The testbed was built to eval- a later stage to be used as input for other simulations.
uate various short range radio communication technologies Senslab [20], [21] is a new very large scale testbed with
including sensor networks and Zigbee radio transmission. over 1000 nodes spread over 4 sites in France. Complete
The testbed can either be configured in a flat or meshed papers that describe this testbed are not yet available but
architecture. A specifically designed FPGA based sensor unit each node consists of an open node, control node and the
with multiple sensors is implemented instead of an off the shelf gateway. The open node is the mote that is used for the WSN
mote so that it can interface with various radio nodes depend- experiments. The control node performs programming and
ing on the experimental requirement. A PowerPC based gate- control functions of the open node and the gateway supplies
way node acts as an interface between the wireless network power and communication back to the testbed platform. Users
and the company enterprise network. It hosts a Java middle- get access to a virtual machine through a web portal to control
ware application that extracts data from the test nodes and experiments. Further details regarding the back-end of the
publishes it to all subscribers in the enterprise network. This testbed are still unpublished but the testbed will support mobile
data is used as input for simulations in a Matlab environment. nodes and different topologies in a variety of environments.

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F. In-Band Management traffic have harsh wireless channels and other attenuation sources.
Most testbeds use some back-channel to perform manage- This section describes two testbeds that have been designed to
ment and control functions. This adds costs, maintenance specifically test the operation of WSNs in such environments.
and inflexibility. SenseNeT [22] is a software based testbed WINTeR [25], [26] is a testbed that was developed to sup-
that does not rely on any additional hardware like wired port WSN evaluation in industrial applications. It is deployed
infrastructure or gateway nodes by using the the existing in a full scale industrial setting with programmable motes
wireless channel for management purposes. This makes the that can be controlled remotely through a web interface and
testbed more scalable and reduces costs. A software compo- testbed server. The motes are connected to an Ethernet and
nent is installed on the motes, which is used to interact with USB back-channel. The Ethernet channel is used for testbed
the central management servers through the existing wireless controls, while the USB interface is used for power control
channel. Remote users can access the testbed through a web of the motes. The testbed also includes a controllable EMI
interface while an application and database server manages attenuation source, a data generation source and a Radio Harsh
the testbed, reprograms nodes and records data. A base station Environment (RHE) extreme multipath fading wireless channel
node is used to interact between the management hardware and to simulate industrial environments.
the network of MicaZ motes. The testbed has self-organising Testbed for tracking and localisation in WSNs [27]
and self-healing properties that ensures depleted nodes can be is deployed in a former manufacturing lab environment that
replaced easily. is considered a close representation of a small factory. The
location creates a harsh wireless environment to model the
G. Specialised Testbed Hardware effects that can be seen in real factory deployments. The
This section describes two very different testbeds. However, testbed itself is a network of TelosB motes that are controlled
both have specialised hardware to give them the ability to do by a central PC and used mainly for localisation experiments.
specific functions. A Java based software application collects localisation data
TWiNS.KOM [23] describes a heterogeneous all-in-one from the motes in real time and a Visualisation Engine creates
hardware concept of a Tubicle. The Tubicle is a 40 cm long a 3-D visualisation of the data for easy interpretation.
transparent acrylic glass cylinder containing multiple sensor
network platforms. These platforms enable the testbed to be I. Other Novel Testbed Enhancements
used in a wide variety of experiments. Each Tubicle consists More work has been done on other novel enhancements
of a Linux based Gumstix Verde interface board, Java based for testbed architectures. Nestbed [28] describes a file system
SunSPOT wireless sensor node, and a TinyOS based Tmote abstraction and Shell interface to control a WSN testbed.
Sky sensor node. Each Tubicle also has a 7 port USB hub Chowkidar [7] describes a network health monitoring system
to interconnect all the components, a Bluetooth dongle, an to ensure testbed availability and reliability. MSRLab6 [29]
external WiFi antenna, an external power port, a webcam and a describes an IPv6 based WSN testbed to investigate the IPv6
Ethernet-to-Serial converter. Testbed control and management features described in the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. ViMobiO
is done through centralised web based control software that [30] describes a virtual mobility overlay to simulate mobile
uses the Gumstix board to control the other hardware in the nodes by virtually moving all the mote software between
Tubicle. The testbed can be accessed through the Ethernet physical nodes in an instant. Mirage [31] describes a resource
interface or through the external WiFi antenna. Data is logged allocation system based on a supply and demand microeco-
and can be retrieved after the completion of the experiment nomic model that assures testbed resources are allocated to
and debugging can be done in real time. Replacing the power users that need them the most.
outlet with a battery makes it possible to mount the Tubicle
on a mobile node or to use it as a portable testbed.
J. Real World Deployments and Other WSN testbeds
HINT [24] is a High-accuracy Non-intrusive Networking
Testbed that can passively capture chip-level signals with A great variety of real world deployments are also used
specifically designed auxiliary test boards. The test boards to study WSNs. Some examples of real deployments include
provide an Ethernet interface to a central PC where collected a floating WSN which is described in [32]. It is used as a
data can be stored and analysed. Modified TelosB nodes, testbed and to determine sea levels. A complete WSN has been
dubbed ZiNT nodes, with extra pins are used to interface with deployed at a farm [33] to track farm animals and gather other
the FPGA based test boards. This architecture gives the testbed information on the farm. It also has actuator nodes that can
very accurate results with minimal interference in the normal produce stimuli to control the farm animals. FireSenseTB [34]
operation of the mote. Software on the central PC can remotely is a testbed built to detect forest fires. Simulated fires are being
manage and debug experiments if needed and supports visual used to determine whether the WSN will be able to detect real
representation of the captured data. fires and sound alarms. SensorScope [35] is a robust outdoor
environmental monitoring system using solar power. WSNs
H. Industrial Application have been deployed at museums [36] and libraries [37] to
Industrial environments will likely be a popular application perform environmental monitoring. Lastly the health of civil
for WSNs. They do however pose a specific challenge as they structures [38] can also be monitored with WSNs.

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TABLE I
C OMPARISON OF WSN T ESTBEDS

Testbed Type Testbed Name Hardware Summary Extra Features


Central Motelab [5] 2005 190 MicaZ and Tmote Sky motes. Connected through Open source. Freely available online and easily repli-
Server MIB600 Interface Boards to Ethernet backchannel. cated at other sites.
Kansei [6], [7] 210 XSM and Tmote Sky motes. Connected through Eth- Simulations with testbed data. Design principles can
2006 ernet backchannel. be used for highly fault tolerant autonomous testbed.
ORBIT [8] 2005 Grid of 100 specifically developed motes. Connected Supports multiple wireless protocols, mobile nodes
through Ethernet backchannel to multiple test servers. and RF interference sources Available online.
Mobile Emulab 35 MicaZ and Stargate motes. Connected through MIB500 Open source. Freely available online and easily repli-
[9], [10] 2006 Interface Boards to Ethernet and WiFi backchannel. cated at other sites.
Single PC LabVIEW TB 23 MicaZ and Cricket motes individually programmed LabVIEW Application to remove complexity of pro-
[11] 2006 through single PC serial interface. gramming motes and visualising data.
SignetLab [12] 48 EyesIFXv2 motes in a tiered USB configuration con- Ceiling suspended motes to save space. Software to
2007 nected to a single PC. control motes and dynamically change architectures.
Sensi-uu [13] Mostly TelosB but also other heterogeneous motes con- Smartphone software support. Also affordable and
2010 nected wirelessly to Android and Symbian smartphones. accurate Lego mobile node implementation.
Hybrid TWIST [14] Up to 180 TelosB and EyesIFX motes connected through Design that supports any mote with USB port and
2006 novel USB and Ethernet backchannel. TinyOS support. Software to control architecture.
IBM WSN TB Specifically developed nodes connected through gateway Example of using existing large Enterprise networks
[15] 2006 nodes to existing Enterprise Ethernet network. for backbone of testbed. Also support for Matlab.
MoteMaster [16] TelosB motes connected to Desktop PC’s through USB. Example of Software for existing Ethernet connected
2009 Uses an existing Ethernet network to connect to servers. PC’s to create a testbed. Also has Matlab interface.
UTSB [18] 2010 62 Octopus II motes connected to Distributed Management Specialised hardware and software to allow pin level
PCs through existing Ethernet and WiFi. power consumption and timing measurements.
Multi-Site X-Sensor [19] 178+ MicaZ nodes deployed at multiple sites. Connected Available online. When sensors are not in use data
2009 to a Central Server and Gateway nodes. is logged continuously for future use.
Senslab [20], 1000+ specifically developed motes deployed at multiple Available online. Users get assigned a virtual ma-
[21] 2010 sites. Connected to a Central Server and Gateway nodes. chine to conduct experiments. Mobile train nodes.
In-Band SenseNeT [22] 8 MicaZ motes with no backchannel for administrative Uses mote based software to do wireless in-band
Management 2007 functions. management. Affordable with no extra hardware.
Specialised TWiNS.KOM Tubicle has a SunSPOT, Tmote Sky, Bluetooth dongle, All in one hardware solution. Support for mobile,
Hardware [23] 2008 WiFi antenna, webcam and serial-to-Ethernet converter. multimedia and different wireless technologies.
HINT [24] 2010 Modified TelosB motes interfacing with specifically de- High accuracy power consumption measurements
signed FPGA boards to capture pin level data. with minimal interference of normal mote operation.
Industrial WINTeR [25], 32 specifically designed motes connected to Central Server. Testbed in a radio harsh wireless environment with
Application [26] 2008 Controllable interference sources. a remotely controllable EMI interference source.
TB for WSNs A few TelosB motes that are individually programmed. Deployed in radio harsh wireless channel. Java soft-
[27] 2009 Central PC with serial Base Station for data logging. ware to visualise testbed data in 3D.

IV. P ROPOSED F UTURE W ORK each testbed’s unique features have been highlighted enabling
Very few of the testbeds described above take into account researchers in choosing the best suited to their requirements.
attenuation sources and harsh wireless environments. The Other real world WSN deployments have also been mentioned
ORBIT testbed [8] introduced controllable RF sources and briefly and a proposal to design and deploy a testbed that has
the WiNTER testbed [25] has an EMI source. The WiNTER controllable interference sources and harsh wireless environ-
testbed together with [27] also describes the implementation of ments has been described.
such testbeds in radio harsh environments. It is the intention of
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