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Wireless sensor networks have been widely used for ambient data collection in diverse environments. While in many such networks the nodes are randomly deployed in massive quantity, there is a broad range of applications advocating manual deployment. A typical example is structure health monitoring, where the sensors have to be placed at critical locations to fulfill civil engineering requirements. The raw data collected by the sensors can then be forwarded to a remote base station (the sink) through a series of relay nodes. In the wireless communication context, the operation time of a battery-limited relay node depends on its traffic volume and communication range. Hence, although not bounded by the civil-engineering-like requirements, the locations of the relay nodes have to be carefully planned to achieve the maximum network lifetime. The deployment has to not only ensure connectivity between the data sources and the sink, but also accommodate the heterogeneous traffic flows from different sources and the dominating many-to-one traffic pattern. Inspired by the uniqueness of such application scenarios, in this paper, we present an in-depth study on the traffic-aware relay node deployment problem. We develop optimal solutions for the simple case of one source node, both with single and multiple traffic flows. We show however that the general form of the deployment problem is difficult, and the existing only connectivity-guaranteed solutions cannot be directly applied here. We then transform our problem into a generalized version of the Euclidean Steiner Minimum Tree problem (ESMT). Nevertheless, we face further challenges as its solution is in continuous space and may yield fractional numbers of relay nodes, where simple rounding of the solution can lead to poor performance. We thus develop algorithms for discrete relay node assignment, together with local adjustments that yield high-quality practical solutions. Our solution has been evaluated through both numerica- - l analysis and ns-2 simulations and compared with state-of-the-art approaches. The results show that for all test cases where the continuous space optimal solution can be computed within acceptable time frames, the network lifetime achieved by our solution is very close to the upper bound of the optimal solution (the difference is less than 13.5 percent). Moreover, it achieves up to 6-14 times improvement over the existing traffic-oblivious strategies.