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Distributed embedded systems such as wireless sensor and actuator networks require new programming models and software tools to support the rapid design and prototyping of sensing and control applications. Unlike centralized platforms and Web-based distributed systems, these distributed sensor-actuator network (DSAN) systems are characterized by a massive number of potentially failing nodes, limited energy and bandwidth resources, and the need to rapidly respond to sensor input. We describe a state-centric, agent-based design methodology to mediate between a system developer's mental model of physical phenomena and the distributed execution of DSAN applications. Building on the ideas of data-centric networking, sensor databases, and proximity-based group formation, we introduce the notion of collaboration groups, which abstracts common patterns in application-specific communication and resource allocation. Using a distributed tracking application with sensor networks, we'll demonstrate how state-centric programming can raise the abstraction level for application developers.