Tipping bucket rain gauge in a paddock with farmer on tractor in the background.

This rain gauge is part of a sensor web monitoring the South Esk River Catchment in Tasmania, Australia.

The latest equipment for farmers: wireless sensor networks

CSIRO is providing sensor web and smart sensor network solutions to the agricultural sector.

  • 27 April 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011

Smart wireless sensor networks are a new technology for remotely and continuously collecting data over wide areas.

They are particularly useful for agriculture where current methods of data collection typically involve one-off surveys that are infrequent, labour intensive and expensive.

Applications

Wireless sensor networks can provide real-time measurements of parameters such as:

  • rainfall
  • wind speed and direction
  • temperature, humidity and sunlight
  • salinity and soil moisture
  • location of livestock.

Such data informs accurate, effective control of activities such as:

  • irrigation
  • planting
  • stock movement
  • application of fertiliser or pesticide.

For example, CSIRO is helping farmers improve the efficient use of water on irrigated pasture by integrating soil moisture data and weather information to automatically produce irrigation schedules that continuously adapt to local conditions.

In terms of plant breeding, CSIRO’s smart sensors are monitoring the size, growth and performance of plants: a laborious task using manual methods in a greenhouse, let alone across a field site.

CSIRO’s smart sensors are monitoring the size, growth and performance of plants.

Dubbed phenonets (phenomics being the study of how an organism’s genes determine its appearance, function and performance) they’re helping geneticists select new plant varieties.

In animal-based agriculture sensor nodes embedded in collars are controlling cattle movements.

When a cow approaches a so-called virtual fence the collar emits a warning sound. If the cow crosses the fence line, it receives a mild shock (far milder than that from an electric fence).

Cattle quickly learn where the fence is and the collars satisfy all animal welfare requirements.

These collars can be used to move stock, protect environmentally sensitive areas, keep bulls apart in the breeding season and for animal behaviour studies.

Wireless sensor network technologies

CSIRO is working on two aspects of wireless sensor network technology:

  • sensor nodes
  • sensor webs.

Sensor nodes

CSIRO’s smart wireless sensor network technology comprises nodes that work independently to record environmental conditions and cooperate with each other to set up an ad hoc network to wirelessly transfer data to a database.

Our platform technology is ideal for many large scale environmental data collection tasks.

Sensor webs

CSIRO is also developing technology that integrates data from many sensors of different types and makes it available on the web. Known as a sensor web it effectively creates one large instrument with a data read-out that’s easy to access and use.

Sensor webs are an emerging platform technology that promises to revolutionise data gathering from existing wireless sensor networks.

Read more about Wireless sensor networks: a new instrument for observing our world.