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In virtual MIMO technology, distributed single-antenna radio systems cooperate on information transmission and reception as a multiple-antenna MIMO radio system. In this paper, a cooperative transmission scheme, virtual MIMO network formation and reconfiguration algorithms, and a cooperative routing backbone are cross-layered designed for wireless sensor networks (WSNs) to jointly achieve required reliability, energy efficiency and delay reduction. The proposed cooperative transmission scheme minimizes the number of intra communications among cooperative nodes. It can save energy and reduces latency at transmission links even when the distance between cooperative nodes is large. In the proposed routing backbone, energy consumption and latency are optimized simultaneously along the route which leverages the MIMO advantages from local transmission links into the whole network. In order to apply the virtual MIMO technology to a general WSN, the number of the cooperative nodes and the length of transmission links are allowed to have heterogeneity. The proposed virtual MIMO radio network can be formed for any underlying WSN with low reconfiguration cost. The performance evaluation shows that the proposed design can fully realize the potential of the virtual MIMO technology and largely improve reliability, latency and energy consumption in a WSN.