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Students Design Sensor Network To Protect Romanian Forest

The application works under low power requirements, establishing a network and routing protocol that connects the sensors to a central server. From there, alerts are sent to PDAs if poaching or other illegal activity is detected.

Laurie Sullivan

June 26, 2006

4 Min Read

Four college students have developed an application to protect forests in Romania against tree poachers, flooding and fires. The application uses a network of sensors to monitor humidity, sound, temperature and carbon monoxide levels.

The Politehnica University of Bucharest students built the application with Microsoft Corp. products, and they took first place in the recent Windows Embedded Student ChallengE. The group was one of 30 international teams who made the finals.

The application focuses on saving Romania's forests by tying into the contest theme: preserve, protect and enhance the environment. Illegal logging, which accounts for about 40 percent of the trees cut down in Romania, contributes to flash floods and landslides triggered by the country's incessant rains, according to Christian Pop, a 22-year-old third-year computer science student at the university, who led the team called 44 Tech.

The application works under low power requirements, establishing a network and routing protocol that connects the sensors to a central server. From there, alerts are sent to PDAs if the application recognizes the sound of a chainsaw cutting down a tree, for example.

The data also becomes available on a Web site where anyone can monitor Romania's latest forest conditions. "We used Microsoft's eBox as the central unit, the brain of the system, and the sensors are the ears and the nose," Pop said. "We can listen for the sounds of chainsaws to stop loggers from cutting down trees, or try to prevent fires by analyzing the data from sensors that monitor carbon monoxide, temperature and humidity."

High carbon monoxide levels or low humidity readings during hot days can trigger a fire alert, for example, he said.

CaLamp Inc. principal engineer James Y. Wilson, who participated as a judge in the Microsoft student competition, says the application confirms that radio frequency (RF) technology and sensor networks are feasible, yet underutilized.

Many companies probably haven't considered monitoring the status of environmental resources through sensor networks, because these types of applications are not motivated by profits, Wilson suggested. In fact, many of the applications the students demonstrated at the competition might have otherwise slipped under the radar, he said.

Although the judges agreed on the top five winners, it took time to determine the final order because all have potential. "There was disagreement," Wilson said. "To decide on the order, we looked for the differentiator and feasibility of the application. We were looking for more than a proof of concept and something that could be manufactured cost effectively into a real project."

Taking second place, a team from the University of Southern Florida with a project that monitors farm-raised fish from birds that swoop down to snatch them from small ponds.

Cameras and motion detectors identify the birds as they approach, and algorithms study the changes in images from one frame to the next. When a bird is identified, the application sprays the intruder with water to frighten it away.

Microsoft provided semifinalists both hardware and software, including Windows CE and eBox II, to develop their final projects. Thirty team finalists arrived in Redmond, Wash, from around the world last week. One team came from Australia, One from Brazil, 14 from China, four from India, two from Mexico, three from Romania, and five from the United States.

1st Place: Team Name: 44 Tech University: Politehnica University of Bucharest, Romania Students: Christian Iuliu Pop, Iaona Romelia Bratie, Omar Choudary, Mircea Dan Gheorghe Project Title: Forest Watcher Description: A monitoring system to prevent forest devastation.

2nd Place: Team Name: Erebus University: University of Southern Florida, United States Students: Albert Ng, Jimal Ramsamooj, Francisco Blanquicet, Scott Werner Project Title: The Erebus Scarecrow Description: An intelligent system to reduce eradication of protected and rare birds in fish farms.

3rd Place: Team Name: Stars University: Xidian University, China Students: Mingming Cheng, Ling Qiu, Wenbo Li, Shaofu Zhang Project Title: Starswave Description: A system designed to conserve electricity through controlled street lamp lighting.

4th Place: Team Name: The Release Candidates University: Politehnica University of Bucharest, Romania Students: Alin Lazar, Andrei Gheorghe, Mihai Ciureanu, Radu Nedelcut Project title: BirdSpot Description: A system for identifying and classifying bird species.

5th Place: Team Name: BUPTUNITED University: Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, China Students: Xingrui Ji, Yi Shi, Lei Wang, Chenpeng Hu Project title: ACES Description: An A1coal mine enhancing system.

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