Network scientists are trying to harvest the advantages provided by ad hoc networks in applications such as communication, robotics and distributed sensors.
Unlike centralized Internet and cellular networks, ad hoc networks are unsupervised and require no base stations. Illustrating the advantages of ad hoc networks with an example of activity-monitoring sensors for volcanoes, NEC Professor of Software Science and Engineering, Nancy Lynch explained that an active sensor would determine how many other sensors are active within its communication range. Pieced together, the information allows the sensors to perform a collective task. If certain sensors are beyond the range, then connections can be dropped or new connections can be made, changing a feature of ad hoc networks.
Altering the network topology can pose a different set of challenges for sensors in cars transferring data regarding traffic conditions or robots inspecting underwater oil rigs for leaks. With unlimited power, accommodating to changing topologies would be easier for devices in ad hoc network. This would enable exchange of maximum data irrespective of the changing distance between them.
Between battery charges, the volcano sensors might need to function for years while the oil-rig robots would have to function for several hours. Thus, designing communication protocols is more challenging in the case of ad hoc networks as it is essential to minimize the consumption of energy while maximizing the efficiency of data exchange.
Muriel Médard, professor of electrical engineering at MIT, explained that ad hoc networks can also be applied to hand-held devices. Médard explained the ease with which data can be distributed within bigger localized groups with the example of a sporting event. Using cell phones, fans at any sporting event could form ad hoc networks to allow thousands of people to watch and replay video data of high quality without overloading local data networks.