A sensor node in a rural area with an artist's impression of a wireless network.

CSIRO's Opal wireless sensor nodes enable versatile, robust, scalable sensor networks.

Wireless sensor networks: a new instrument for observing our world

CSIRO is developing robust wireless sensor network hardware and smart software to increase the quality and reduce the cost of collecting environmental data.

  • 12 May 2011 | Updated 14 October 2011

Demand is growing for information about the environmental systems that support Australia’s agricultural, resource and process-based industries.

The cost of collecting environmental data using current methods is labour intensive and expensive. The requirement for infrastructure, in particular, limits the area that can be monitored and the frequency at which measurements can be taken and transmitted.

Wireless sensor networks are a new technology for collecting data about the natural or built environment. They consist of nodes comprising the appropriate sensors along with computational devices that transmit and receive data wirelessly.

The nodes work independently to record environmental conditions. Each cooperates with its neighbours to wirelessly transmit their readings via an ad-hoc network.

Wireless sensor networks provide information on an unprecedented temporal and spatial scale.

However, locations that present interesting sensing opportunities are often exactly those locations where communication is difficult, or where it is difficult to provide power to the node.

Our research

CSIRO’s information and communication technologies researchers are developing:

  • robust wireless sensor networks
  • automatic data quality control
  • easy to use visualisation technology
  • powerful forecasting tools.
Inside five years, we aim for our sensors and network technologies to be the dominant means of data collection in CSIRO and among our industry partners.

Platform technology

Through our years of experience with real world sensor network deployments, we have found that the best performance of a sensor network comes from adapting the nodes and communication methods to the local environment and the application. 

CSIRO’s Opal platform handles all kinds of sensors and adapts to local conditions to ensure peak performance.

Link quality is maintained by having multiple antennas and switching technology that automatically selects the best radio frequency at any given time.

Intelligent protocols also adjust the frequency and data rate to suit shifting throughput and range requirements.

Communication at up to 3 Mbps over more than 12 km are possible.

The nodes of our platform technology are:

  • low cost and easy to produce
  • robust enough for remote and harsh environments
  • easily modified to measure almost any variable.

Opal nodes can switch from extreme energy conservation to high load computational tasks and can recharge under fluorescent light.

Data technologies

Our network technology includes an automated system to ensure data integrity.

With a simply mouse hover, our augmented reality visualisation technology overlays raw sensor data on video streaming from a node.

Our world-leading sensor web technology combines wireless sensor networks (WSNs), even those using different data formats.

Our simple dashboard interface gives real-time access to the data and to our powerful flow forecasting tool, currently informing sustainable management of water resources.

Applications

Applications include:

  • farming:
    • monitoring crops
    • monitoring soil moisture and nutrient content
    • virtual fencing.
  • environmental management:
    • water quality
    • localised weather forecasting
    • changes in vegetation type and cover
    • field monitoring of seismic data and gas concentrations.
  • security and safety:
    • monitoring large, sparsely populated marine and land areas 
    • monitoring emergency events and response.
  • industries such as mining, manufacturing, process and construction:
    • monitoring critical and remote variables or infrastructure.

Partners

CSIRO has developed and deployed some of the largest, longest running wireless sensor networks in Australia.

Collaborators conducting field trials of our sensor nodes platform technology include:

  • South East Queensland Water
  • Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management
  • Australian Institute of Marine Science
  • Tasmanian Institute for Agricultural Research
  • HydroTasmania.

Read more of the technical details behind our technology in Sensor Networks [external link].