Hacking the environment with Atmel & Arduino

Did you know new technology is changing the way scientists and researchers collect biodiversity data? To be sure, information that once required taking expensive, bulky and fragile equipment on field trips can now be collected on inexpensive, compact and robust devices.


Image Credit: Ed Baker

Indeed, a recent paper published in the Biodiversity Data Journal describes an environmental data-logger built around an Atmel-powered Arduino platform. 

Author Ed Baker says he hopes the article will help encourage the adoption of new data collection technologies by biodiversity scientists and foster new collaboration with both electronics hobbyists and electronics engineers who have an interest in biodiversity.

“The Arduino platform provides a low-cost and customizable alternative to expensive proprietary data loggers and sensors,” he explained.

“We increasingly rely on citizen scientists to collect the data at the core of our science, in particular the network of biological recorders who provide much of our knowledge on the changing distribution of species. Many of these people are interested in using technology to maximize the value of the data they collect, but don’t have the financial or technological resources to make full use of the opportunities technology provides.”

Projects such as the one described in the Biodiversity Data Journal will will enable wider access to the latest technologies. As Baker notes, biodiversity science has made use of increasingly large datasets in recent years, ranging from the global collection of specimen and observation data in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) to monitoring changes in habitat and vegetation using data from satellites.

“The introduction of easy-to-use micro-controller devices such as the Arduino brought working with digital electronics to a broader audience,” Baker concluded.

“There is great potential for the biodiversity community if we collaborate with knowledgeable ‘hackers’ and ‘Makers’ as citizen engineers in the same way we interact with knowledgeable amateur natural historians as citizen scientists.”

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