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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DEVELOPMENT OF WATER MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGICES FOR THE MID SOUTH Title: Open-source hardware is a low-cost alternative for scientific instrumentation and research

Authors
item Fisher, Daniel
item Gould, P -

Submitted to: Modern Intrumentation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 8, 2012
Publication Date: April 30, 2012
Citation: Fisher, D.K., Gould, P.J. 2012. Open-source hardware is a low-cost alternative for scientific instrumentation and research. Modern Intrumentation. 1(2):8-20.

Interpretive Summary: Collection of data is important to scientific research in order to study, monitor, analyze, describe, or understand a particular process or event. The process can be automated to reduce labor requirements and increase the amount and frequency of measurements, but often times the expense and complexity of electronic instrumentation make data-collection efforts unfeasible. Rapid advances in electronic technologies and open-source hardware projects have resulted in a variety of new and inexpensive sensing and monitoring capabilities which offer opportunities for agricultural and natural-resource research applications. Several simple and inexpensive electronic datalogging systems were developed using the open-source Arduino microcontroller development platform. Sensors and data-collection instrumentation were installed in research fields to monitor soil-moisture status of field crops for irrigation scheduling and crop-water use studies, to measure daily evaporation-pan water level for quantifying evaporative demand, and to monitor environmental parameters under forested conditions. These studies demonstrate the usefulness of continuous, automated measurements, and offer guidance for other researchers in developing sensing and monitoring systems using open-source hardware. The ability to quickly develop inexpensive instrumentation will enable researchers to improve their data-collection capabilities and further their research efforts.

Technical Abstract: Scientific research requires the collection of data in order to study, monitor, analyze, describe, or understand a particular process or event. Data collection efforts are often a compromise: manual measurements can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, resulting in data being collected at a low frequency, while automating the data-collection process can reduce labor requirements and increase the frequency of measurements, but at the cost of added expense of electronic data-collecting instrumentation. Rapid advances in electronic technologies have resulted in a variety of new and inexpensive sensing, monitoring, and control capabilities which offer opportunities for implementation in agricultural and natural-resource research applications. An Open Source Hardware project called Arduino consists of a programmable microcontroller development platform, expansion capability through add-on boards, and a programming development environment for creating custom microcontroller software. All circuit-board and electronic component specifications, as well as the programming software, are open-source and freely available for anyone to use or modify. Inexpensive sensors and the Arduino development platform were used to develop several inexpensive, automated sensing and datalogging systems for use in agricultural and natural-resource related research projects. Systems were developed and implemented to monitor soil-moisture status of field crops for irrigation scheduling and crop-water use studies, to measure daily evaporation-pan water level for quantifying evaporative demand, and to monitor environmental parameters under forested conditions. These studies demonstrate the usefulness of automated measurements, and offer guidance for other researchers in developing inexpensive sensing and monitoring systems to further their research efforts.

Last Modified: 12/21/2014
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