Atmel-powered MakerBot helps take the pulse of climate change

Adam Wolf is a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University who studies how different types of plants respond to changes in water availability. From Modeler to Maker, Wolf once relied on mathematical models to predict how plants grow, but soon realized this paradigm was mostly “agnostic to species.”

According to Ben Millstein of the official MakerBot blog, Wolf is a co-founder of Princeton’s Low-Cost Sensors for the Environment (PULSE) Lab. PULSE bundles sensors collecting climate data with a cell phone transceiver – allowing the data to be sent as a text message to the project server.

“The original plan was to make everything out of extruded aluminum,” said Wolf, who prototyped the PULSE pods on an Atmel-powered MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer.

However, Wolf had a difficult time getting the attention of metal fabricators, as “even a run that would cost us a couple of thousand dollars is chump change for them.”

Ultimately, Wolf and the PULSE Lab decided to 3D print its own pods (see picture above) out of PLA filament, with the cost of the material weighing in about the same as aluminium: $5 per pod. Since then, the pods have been deployed in various locations including southern New Jersey, Burkina Faso and Zambia.

“Next we’re going to try in a tropical context… There’s a lot of money in monitoring agriculture production,” added Wolf, who envisions a system like traffic monitoring on Google Maps, only for the natural world.

Unsurprisingly, Wolf also teaches a class in 3D printing with Kelly Caylor, a civil engineering professor.

“I’m near the mechanical engineering department. They’ve got a $50,000 3D printer, you give the design to this other guy and they’ll make it. With the [Atmel-powered] MakerBot, there’s an immediacy: ‘You mean I can make a design and press go?’ I’d love the students to go into milling and lathing, but the 3D printer – this 3D printer in particular – is the easiest way to get them making.”

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the DIY Maker Movement has been using Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now. However, 3D printing recently entered a new and important stage in a number of spaces including the medical spherearchitectural arenascience lab and even on the battlefield. So it comes as little surprise that the lucrative 3D printing industry remains on track to be worth a staggering $3 billion by 2016 – and $8.41 billion by 2020.

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