Remote Environment Controller for Experiments in Extreme Environments

Summary

Observing biological systems, animals, traffic or the evolution of cities in their natural environment requires researchers to travel to remote places. Field trips to these distant locations are often limited in time, expensive, or even dangerous. Here, we build an autonomous environment observer that once installed monitors key parameters that are essential for our research. Our aim is to establish a sensor platform that is autonomous (i.e. solar powered) and able to transmit data and receive instructions remotely. Rather than targeting a single application, we build a generic sensor platform that can be used for a wide range of applications and can be easily adapted. Initially we test our system in a student vegetable garden where the sensor platform will be tested and simple measurements such as soil moisture, UV intensity, temperature, humidity, camera etc. are taken. The main outcome of this project will be a field tested generic sensor platform that can be easily adapted for a wide range of tasks.

The below figure illustrates the data and power flow of the system: 

In short, energy from a solar panel is feed into a battery. The battery powers the main processor (i.e. a raspberry pi). However, to save power the pi is only swtched on periodically by an arduini which requires significantly less enery to run and it can simultaniously monitor the battery voltage to prevent deep battery discharge and only swith on when the battery is sufficiently charged. The pi then read data from the sensors after the signal is converted from analog to digital. Finally the data is transmitted via wifi or the GSM (at locations without wifi) and can then be monitored from anywhere in the world with a PC.

The documentation is structured into several independent sub components which include:

  • Solar Power and Batteries
  • Processor (Raspberry Pi)
  • Use of an external timer circuit to save power
  • Choice of sensors and how to connect them
  • Data transmission
  • Mounting and weather resistant casing
  • Data display and storage
  • Future work

The Team

Philipp Braeuninger-Weimer
Electrical Engneering | Postdoc |
Philipp is the electronics and sensor expert in our team. He has worked on complex sensor projects such as designing allergen sensors for Unilever Ice cream plant and sun tracking mechanisms to boost solar cell harvesting capabilities. Both of these skills are very applicable in this project.

Maximilian Stammnitz
Department of Veterinary Medicine | PhD | 
Max’s PhD involves genome sequencing of the Tasmanian devils in Tasmania, one of the most remote locations on this planet. His fieldwork experience will make him an ideal application specialist for our team advising on how to make the sensor toolkit applicable to his research.  

Bryn Pickering
Civil Engineering | PhD |
Bryn is completing a PhD in the design of energy supply systems for districts of Bangalore, India, accounting for uncertain environmental and behavioural factors. His previous work includes dissemination of building-level environmental monitoring data for automated control systems. Bryn is currently Environmental and Ethical Officer in Darwin College and will allow us access to the vegetable garden and greenhouse, which will act as a test environment for our sensor platform.

Chrisitan Schwall
Biochemistry | PhD |
Christian is an expert on measurement automation of biological systems. Complementary to the research field of the above mentioned Christian will advise on the key performance parameters desirable for monitoring biological systems in remote environments. 


Project Outcomes

Project Report.png

Project Report

Project report and documentation on Github

Proposal.png

Project Proposal

Original proposal and application