Dec. 15, 2009 A group of researchers, led by Carlos León de Mora, head of the Department for Electronic Technology and Director of the Research Group for Electronic Research and Industrial Information of the University of Seville, is studying the development and the application of a network of wireless sensors and artificial intelligence techniques to monitor the environment within a research project called ARTICA. With this network of sensors, the researchers seek to obtain environmental information that is useful for the biologists in the Doñana Natural Park.
Carlos León and his team have developed a series of devices (motes) that, integrating different sensors, are placed in a certain area to obtain information on different environmental variables. These sensors gather the information from their surroundings: temperature, humidity levels, oxygenation of a given area or ultraviolet radiation. "The wireless network of sensors, due to their simplicity, can be developed in mass. Therefore, they are very suitable to cover large areas or those areas that are particularly remote where deploying a traditional communications network does not make sense," says the researcher.
According to León, these devices are relatively simple and are low cost, which facilitates their deployment in any area. These devices have batteries that are charged by solar energy which is collected by means of integrated solar panels. Each sensor is encapsulated in an airtight box that protects it from the adverse weather conditions that can take place in each area.
The ARTICA project is still in its initial phase, but they have already developed a node prototype or network elements, and they expect to deploy this network in the area of the Doñana Natural Park and for it to be fully operational by the end of the year. "Among all of this technology's possibilities, we are illustrating the application of wireless network sensors in Doñana. We have an agreement with the Park -- assures Carlos León -- to deploy a network that allows them to continuously monitor a specific lake's behaviour in order to foresee its flooding level." Determining the flooding level of a wetland is traditionally done manually which implies using invasive methods (a boat in the lake) and it requires for a technician to travel on horseback (there is no other way) for a few hours until he reaches the specific spot. The flooding level is essential in determining the amount of vegetation that there will be and how this affects the bird colonies that visit or live in the Park.
He also states that they may be developing other applications soon. "For example, birds' nests could be monitored in order to determine hatching. From the sound of the chicks in the shell, we can know beforehand when the hatching shall take place," says Carlos León.
Processing the Information Apart from applying this network of sensors to the environmental field, ARTICA seeks to develop a platform that integrates and processes the information gathered from the environment and transmit it to a distant place, for example, the University, where they may analyse this information. "The network of sensors does not only gather data, but it also integrates artificial intelligence: each sensor node processes the data that has been obtained and, intelligently, transmits solely the relevant information," states Carlos León.
"We still have to work on many areas: the hardware and the algorithms associated with the sensor node, the communication protocols or the middleware," assures León. In order to do this, ARTICA has received an incentive of 318,000 Euros from the Department for Innovation, which has qualified it as an Excellence Project.
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