Lightning: A hard real-time, fast, and lightweight low-end wireless sensor election protocol for acoustic event localization

Qixin Wang, Rong Zheng, Ajay Tirumala, Xue Liu, Lui Sha

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


We present the Lightning Protocol, a hard real-time, fast, and lightweight protocol to elect the sensor closest to an impulsive sound source. This protocol can serve proximity-based localization or leader election for sensor collaboration. It utilizes the fact that electromagnetic waves propagate much faster than acoustic waves to efficiently reduce the number of contending sensors in the election. With simple RF bursts, most basic comparison operations, no need of clock synchronization, and a memory footprint as small as 5,330 bytes of ROM and 187 bytes of RAM, the protocol incurs O(1) transmissions, irrespective of the sensor density, and guarantees hard real-time (O(1)) localization time cost. Experiment results using UC Berkeley Motes in a common office environment demonstrate that the time delay for the Lightning Protocol is on the order of milliseconds. The simplicity of the protocol reduces memory cost, computation complexity, and programming difficulty, making it desirable for low-end wireless sensors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4358996
Pages (from-to)270-284
Number of pages15
JournalIEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Location-dependent and sensitive
  • Pervasive computing
  • Real time
  • Wireless sensor networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering

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