Water-smart Sensors
Going Underground

Deciding when and how much to irrigate is critical for farmers working to conserve water, save money and maximize crop production.

UNL computer engineer Mehmet Can Vuran wants to give producers more information to make those decisions. He’s developing wireless underground sensor networks to provide precise, real-time data about soil moisture and other changing conditions.

Wireless underground sensor networks consist of hundreds of sensors buried in the soil to collect data about moisture and composition, temperature and atmospheric changes. The idea, Vuran said, is to let the soil tell producers how much and when to water.

He estimates that underground sensors could reduce irrigation up to 25 percent depending on soil conditions and crop type, which would have significant economic and environmental benefits.

"Integrating wireless sensor network solutions with agriculture has huge potential to improve crop yields and decrease irrigation costs significantly," Vuran said.

He also is designing network protocols that could enable the sensors to transmit information directly to a center pivot irrigation system, which would determine when to turn on the water and how much to apply.

Vuran’s project has potential to transform wireless communications. Underground operation is the challenge. Wet soil limits the sensors’ transmission power. He’s working to create network protocols and communication devices that adjust to variable soil, temperature and water conditions. His work could expand wireless underground sensor networks to applications such as monitoring underground oil pipes, mines or tunnels and even underwater operations.

Vuran earned a five-year, $418,760 National Science Foundation CAREER Program award, which supports outstanding pre-tenure faculty, to expand this research. The grant also provides support for a wireless networking solutions workshop for teens.

"We want budding farmers to see how they can use computer science and engineering to solve agricultural problems," Vuran said.

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Associated Web Content

UNL news release: Vuran CAREER award

Workshop paper

Journal article


The 2009-2010 Annual Report is published by the
University of Nebraska−Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development. More information is available
at http://research.unl.edu or contact:

Prem S. Paul
Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development
301 Canfield Administration Building
University of Nebraska−Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0433
(402) 472-3123  •  ppaul2@unl.edu

Vicki Miller, Monica Norby, Ashley Washburn, Elizabeth Banset, Office of Research and Economic Development

Contributing Writers:
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Some articles are based on earlier stories from University Communications and IANR News Service and written by Kelly Bartling, Troy Fedderson, Sara Gilliam, Sandi Alswager Karstens, Daniel R. Moser, Judy Nelson, Tom Simons,
Steve Smith, Carole Wilbeck

Joel Brehm, Brett Hampton, Craig Chandler,
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