AU Canada Research Chair Secures Funding for Wireless Sensor Technology Development
Dr. Scott Ketcheson will use an Engage Grant to benefit environmental science researchers and practitioners who monitor and gather field measurements
Dr. Scott Ketcheson, Canada Research Chair in Hydrological Sustainability and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST) at Athabasca University, recently secured research funding. His funding was awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Engage program, which helps foster the development of new research partnerships between the applicant and a company. The company must be capable of further developing the results after the project is completed and the project must be focused on a research challenge with specific short-term objectives.
Engage grant funding enables post-secondary researchers to undertake new research collaborations that are expected to provide economic benefits to the company and Canada, while building impactful and long-term collaborations between the applicant and the company.
Ketcheson’s project, “Innovative Technologies for Field Measurements: High-tech ‘Low Power Wide Area Sensor Networks’ for Distributed Environmental Data Collection Across Scales” received close to $25,000 in funding to use between November 1, 2018 and May 1, 2019. This grant was awarded to forge a partnership between Ketcheson, along with his AU research team, and Riot Technology Corp., a technology development company based in British Columbia.
The intention of Ketcheson’s research project will be to test and improve upon a new, innovative wireless sensor technology that will help researchers gather regular measurements and environmental variables in remote or difficult-to-access locations.
Such monitoring is what Ketcheson and his team are doing right now as part of his Canada Research Chair field research program on Stony Mountain—roughly 40 kilometres south of Fort McMurray—with various research sites on their radar.
“Several of these research sites are very difficult to access, involving lots of hiking in challenging terrain,” Ketcheson explains. “Many days [in the summer] we hiked between 10-12 kilometers, not as a stroll down a nice pathway, but as bushwhacking-down cut lines and trudging across wetlands.”
Effective environmental monitoring typically requires regular measurements of environmental variables under different conditions, such as wet versus dry, and throughout the different seasons. Yet difficult-to-access sites can make data retrieval problematic if the physical or weather conditions are not ideal.
This newly funded technology removes the inaccessibility factor by allowing Ketcheson’s team to gather information at many of these remote locations simultaneously without having to physically visit them.
“Instead, the technology allows us to remotely collect data from the sensors we installed in those difficult-to-access study sites,” Ketcheson says. “Now, I am able to collect information and hydrological data, such as soil moisture, groundwater levels, streamflow, and rainfall from many locations within the study sites from my home office.”
Understanding how a range of factors, such as weather conditions and surface topography, affect the new technology’s performance is the main goal of this research project. Once understood, Ketcheson’s results will be used to adjust the design of Riot’s systems and better-anticipate future challenges as this project is one of the first opportunities to evaluate the technology’s performance in a real-world, environmental research, field deployment.
“Ultimately, the outcomes of this project will improve environmental measurement and monitoring capabilities for environmental science researchers and practitioners across academia, government, and private industry”– Dr. Scott Ketcheson