Behind the Curtain: The Support Component of Wireless Soil Moisture Networks

Wednesday, July 24, 2013: 9:30 AM
Desert Salon 1-2 (Desert Springs J.W Marriott Resort )
Lauren Crawford , Decagon Devices, Inc., Pullman, WA
Dr. John D. Lea-Cox , University of Maryland, College Park, MD
John Majsztrik , University of Maryland, Laurel, MD
William Bauerle , Colorado State University, Fort Collins
Marc van Iersel, Ph.D Professor , Department of Horticulture, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Todd Martin , Decagon Devices, Inc., Pullman, WA
David Kohanbash , Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Wireless soil moisture sensors have been successfully used to manage water in greenhouses and nurseries settings, and have been shown to improve plant quality, save water, and reduce disease pressure.  Most publications discussing progress in this area have focused on the sensors and wireless networks used to provide the data to growers.  In order for the data from the systems to be actionable, key decisions must be made by personnel before the system is installed, during the configuration process, and after the data are provided to the grower.  These decisions include, but are not limited to: 1) number of sensors used to schedule irrigations within a single zone, or plant species; 2) location of sensors within the root zone;  3) frequency of the sensor measurements, and how the data are reported;  4) data storage and graphic/text display; and 5) maintenance needs of the system. These unknowns represent potential barriers to adoption for growers that are interested in using sensors to monitor irrigation, but are unsure of the additional time and resources that implementation and management may entail.  Our goals are to elucidate the decision and support process behind wireless sensor networks, and to recommend best practices to ensure optimum results for the end user and quick adoption by growers.  We reviewed the configuration and support structure of 12 different locations where wireless soil moisture systems are used to monitor and control irrigation, including six commercial greenhouses and nurseries, which have been controlling irrigation for up to a year.   We identified key areas where growers benefitted from external assistance in either setting up a wireless system or interpreting data collected by their sensors, which was mostly during system set up.  Specifically, most growers needed external technical assistance setting up the Sensorweb software system.  Growers also benefited from learning the functionality of the software from a software expert.  However, after most growers learned the basic functionality of the software, they were able to use the features to learn about their irrigation strategies on their own.  In addition, growers were unfamiliar with how and where to install the sensors for monitoring.    A clear picture of the cost, limitation, and time requirements for setting up and running a network will help identify where technical resources should be focused to minimize installation problems, and aid in the adoption of this technology by growers.