We propose a self-organizing sleep-wake sensor system that is scalable, easily implemented, and energy conserving. An application of concepts from cellular automata theory accounts for much of its novelty. As a surprising byproduct of its self-organizing behavior, the system has additional, highly desirable properties such as a self-healing capability, fault tolerance, asynchronous operation, seamless accommodation of obstacles in the sensor field, and effectiveness even in the case of intelligent intruders who know sensor design and sensor locations. System performance is a focus of the paper, along with the inverse problem of cellular automata, and self-organizing systems in general: How does one set local rules and initial states so as to achieve pre-specified behavior? Our experimental studies show that broad classes of behavior can be achieved by design, especially by the placement of artificial nucleation centers.