Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Dec 09, 2009 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

I am at the 8th International Information and Telecommunication Technologies Symposium hosted by the Federal University of Santa Caterina (December 9th, 10th and 11th) and I have just finished listening to a very interesting talk by Professor Antonio Alfredo Ferreiro Loureiro (Federal University of Minas Gerais) on "frogs".

Actually his talk was not *really* about "frogs", but about ad-hoc sensor networks used to sense environmental issues. These sensors are very simple (and often "slow") computers that gather the information, then transmit the information via a wireless mesh network to the Internet for processing and analysis.

It seems that frogs are a very good indicator of changes in the environment. In a stable environment they tend to have a stable population, and when the environment starts to change, their population or their behaviors can change rapidly.

One of the indicators of change is their "singing". Certain species of frogs only sing during the day (allowing the monitoring sensors to be turned off at night, conserving battery power) and it is known that only the males sing. Finally, these frogs have different songs for different occasions, and one of these occasions is when they are looking for a mate.

By having the sensors transmit audio through the Internet, or even do simple sampling and analysis locally before transmitting, the researchers can analyze what is happening to the frog population without disturbing them.

I am reminded of a similar project 40 years ago, when I first met a gentleman named Ted Childs in northwestern Connecticut in the United States. At 70 years of age Ted was responsible for one of the "Benchmark Weather Stations" in the United States, a place that was remote, unlikely to change dramatically in the near future, and for which records had been kept for a very long time. Ted had been keeping records on daily temperature, rain fall, barometric pressure and other indicators since he was a young man. Rain or shine, warm or bitter cold, Ted would go out to his weather station and take the readings. Years later the Weather Service contacted Ted and asked him if he would continue doing this and report his readings to them. Of course, he agreed, but it meant that he had to make sure that someone (even if it was not him) went to the weather station every day to take those readings and record them.

I can only think about how much easier it would be today for Ted to have some of these sensors hooked up to his weather station to send the data automatically to his computer, and to have many readings during the day, instead of just one.

Of course wireless sensor networks have many more uses than just counting frogs, but I am sure that Ted, an ardent conservationist, would appreciate how important it was to monitor the environment carefully. I am also sure the frog would agree.

Carpe (gently) Frog!
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