A project carried out by the Departamento de Teoría de la Señal y Comunicaciones of the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid (UC3M) has resulted in the development of an irrigation management system of easy installation on golf courses based on networks of wireless sensors.
Currently, golf courses tend to have irrigation systems that uniformly water all fields, regardless of the humidity differences that slopes, areas in shaded regions, or exposed to wind and other elements can produce. This inefficient water management that results in plentiful waste of water could soon be a thing of the past.
What Álvaro Galán proposes in his final year project directed by Professor Antonio Artes from the departamento de Teoría de la Señal y Comunicaciones de la UC3M, is to optimise current irrigation systems by measuring and calculating the correct water requirements in real time using information gathered by small electronic devices distributed along the golf course forming a sensor network. These nodes allow for the sprinklers to be activated and deactivated efficiently with estimated consequent water savings between 20 and 30% of the water currently required.
The function of this new system is based on wireless sensor network technology, one of the research fronts that professor Antonio Artes, director of the research group for Investigación de Tratamiento de Señal at the UC3M, has been investigating for over the last five years. He reflects on another advantage that this technology offers, “This wireless technology does not require electrical cabling while controlling the sprinklers at a golf course and so saves time and the financial expenses of digging trenches to bury the cables”. Another virtue of this system according to Mr Galán, is its autoconfiguration capability, since just deploying the nodes in the interest zones is enough for them to configure a network automatically which makes it very simple to use. “The main idea is to collect environmental measurements with these sensors, transmit the information via radio through the sensor network, collect it in a central computer and process it to calculate the ideal irrigation time at each node”.
Low installation and maintenance costs
Thanks to these characteristics, the installation and maintenance costs are less than the current costs, since is not necessary to spread cable all over the course avoiding the cost of digging trenches to bury the electrical cables that up to now where required to control the irrigation controllers. Paradoxical as it may seem, the weakest point for this system is also its wireless nature, mainly due to the energy limitations. “The nodes, explains Mr Galán, have to be powered with batteries, and for the system to be efficient the duration of the batteries should be of several months to a year without the need of maintenance” he admits.
But he also offers the solution, since it is enough that with the optimization of the routines, the nodes are inactive most of the time. Using multi-hop packet routing protocols to avoid having to transmit the information at much power or using low power sensors are among other measures.
The next step for this telecommunications engineer of the UC3M, given the success and the good acceptance of his work, is the commercial development of the system. Last year he received the prize for the best final year Project awarded by the Cátedra Telefónica at the Universidad de Zaragoza for using new technologies to save water and he has already received several commercial proposals.
Álvaro Galán comments, “From the start I have been given access and material to develop this project, like a platform of wireless sensors and laboratory resources which has helped me test and develop small demonstrations to show the evolution of the project. One of the most interesting aspects of this project is its multidisciplinary character: it involves software (programming of the nodes), electronics (design and manufacturing of the adaptation), radio (frequency and channels, range of communications) and networks (channelling protocols)”.
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