NSF grant to support next-gen underground sensors

NSF grant to support next-gen underground sensors

Mehmet Can Vuran (left) and Suat Irmak

University of Nebraska–Lincoln researchers have earned a $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a second generation of underground sensor technology that can automate decision-making when it comes to irrigating crops.

Mehmet Can Vuran, a Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of computer science and engineering, and Suat Irmak, the Harold W. Eberhard Distinguished Professor of biological systems engineering, said upgrades to the wireless technology will improve communication ranges and data rates.

“This will allow farmers to bury tens to hundreds of wireless soil sensors … and receive real-time soil information without worrying about the impacts of machinery on the field,” Vuran said.

The researchers have tested previous iterations of their sensor technology at the South Central Agricultural Laboratory near Clay Center, which aims to develop and refine irrigation-assisted practices that improve crop production. Developing next-generation sensors, Irmak said, should ultimately help farmers use water more efficiently during irrigation.

“Future irrigation systems will demand easier but robust and more autonomous control to simplify and enhance decision-making,” Irmak said. “This grant will also enable us to make advances in agricultural science, which has explicit research, Extension and education implications.”

The applications of their work could even extend beyond agriculture, Vuran said. Underground sensors with ranges and data rates “comparable to conventional wireless devices” might also be employed in smart-road infrastructure that helps keep tabs on highway conditions.

“This project will enable a wide array of novel solutions,” Vuran said, “from saving water resources for more food production to saving lives on roadways.”