February 28, 2003

HPWREN Experiments with a Smart Camera

HPWREN scientific applications share the common problem of transmitting information between remote sites and campus laboratories. The wide-area wireless network enables field researchers in mountain and desert locations to efficiently transmit large amounts of data in real time. A case in point, San Diego State University's 4344-acre Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve (SMER) has been connected to the 45 megabit/second HPWREN backbone for nearly two years, and this high-speed data transfer capability is changing the way SMER field researchers do science.

The network connectivity enables researchers to employ high-bandwidth instruments such as real-time video cameras to measure and monitor ecological and environmental systems, and to extend the number and range of conventional remote-sensing devices. As an example, one SMER researcher uses the HPWREN connectivity to remotely observe the roles of hummingbirds, bees, and moths in the pollination of the bush monkey flower, Mimulus aurantiacus. A specific application that the SMER researchers have in mind is to monitor animal movement through corridors between island habitats. This activity can be supported by inexpensive camera and wireless networking technologies available today. The technological challenges to implementing systems for monitoring events in the field are ruggedness, small size, high image resolution, sufficiently low power consumption to be powered by batteries or solar panels, and affordability.

The latest application of new technology to field research at SMER combines imaging and networking in a single package. In coordination with Braun, Pablo Bryant, Research Technology Manager of the San Diego State University Field Station programs, has set up experimental stations based on high-resolution digital cameras that also include a Web server integrated into a single package. "Low-resolution webcams with built-in Web servers have been on the market for several years," Bryant said, "but a high-res camera with Web server is still pretty much a specialty item. The ones that we have been experimenting with for monitoring our ecological field stations have some unusual -- and very useful -- capabilities."

Connected to a passive infrared sensor and a floodlight, the camera system tracked this wild animal in the ecological reserve.

Results of Bryant's and Braun's early camera evaluations can be found at /cameras/; results from evaluations of Ricoh 3+ megapixel i700 cameras are at /Imagery/. Their latest evaluation is of the IQeye3 camera/server. "While the IQeye3 camera has lower resolution than the Ricoh i700," Bryant said, "it is a more completely implemented network camera with, for our purposes, richer functionalities -- among others an ability to define parameterizable image motion detect areas, interchangeable lenses, easy interface for automated image collection via the network, and a syslog capability. The entire device -- the 1288 x 968 pixel imager and integrated Web server -- consumes less than three watts at 12 volts DC. It is possible to power the camera and a low-power radio network interface with a single solar array panel and storage battery."

"This technology allows field scientists to monitor the environment in ways not previously possible," San Diego State University's Field Station Programs Executive Director Sedra Shapiro said. "Information technology research and natural science research are driving each other in terms of new applications and new identified needs."

A detailed and rather entertaining description of the SMER field evaluation of the camera is available at /Tech/Iqeye/.

Note Added at Press Time:
Hans-Werner Braun writes: This attached image is giving me some pause. This really pretty animal has no comprehension that it is being photographed, nor does it have a meaningful ability to interact with humans -- in the course of evolution it is probably a hundred thousand years away from where even dogs are today. There is a tremendous amount of technology around -- solar power, sensor towers, automatic motion-detecting cameras, computers -- for which the capabilities and opportunities are not even fully appreciated by the human mind, much less an animal's. Here is this little coyote staring into the world, waiting to get its part of the food humans laid out there as a bait ... which is there solely for the purpose of having an entirely automated electronic contraption take precisely time-stamped images and send them in near real time across wireless networks to a server 50 miles away, where they are automatically processed and incorporated into a Web page that can be viewed anywhere in the world by anyone with Internet access. What does all this mean?

--Mike Gannis,
Reprinted from 2003 Online: News about the NPACI and SDSC Community

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