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Energy conservation is one of the most important issues for evaluating the performance of wireless sensor network (WSN) applications. Generally speaking, hierarchical clustering protocols such as LEACH, LEACH-C, EEEAC, and BCDCP are more efficient in energy conservation than flat routing protocols. However, these typical protocols still have drawbacks of unequal and high energy depletion in cluster heads (CHs) due to the different transmission distance from each CH to the base station (BS). In order to minimize the energy consumption and increase the network lifetime, we propose a new hierarchical routing protocol, distance aware intelligent clustering protocol (DAIC), with the key concept of dividing the network into tiers and selecting the high energy CHs at the nearest distance from the BS. We have observed that a considerable amount of energy can be conserved by selecting CHs at the nearest distance from the BS. Also, the number of CHs is computed dynamically to avoid the selection of unnecessarily large number of CHs in the network. Our simulation results showed that the proposed DAIC outperforms LEACH and LEACH-C by 63.28% and 36.27% in energy conservation respectively. The distance aware CH selection method adopted in the proposed DAIC protocol can also be adapted to other hierarchical clustering protocols for the higher energy efficiency.