Data Collection Platform
Argonne National Laboratory
Lemont, IL

As urban populations expand, some experts envision “smarter” cities, where hundreds or thousands of strategically placed sensors will record and monitor all types of measurements, including waterway pollutants, air pressure, and temperature. The barrier to the “smart city,” however, is quick and easy access to data. The sensors require a computing platform to process the data being received.

The Waggle platform circuit boards are installed in a weather-proof casing for a deployment in partnership with the City of Chicago, called the “Array of Things.” Early test units (shown here) are scheduled to be installed on the campuses of DePaul University, University of Chicago, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. (Image Credit: Mark Lopez/Argonne National Laboratory)

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have developed a “Waggle” platform that improves the data collection process. Featuring the same circuit board and processing speeds as a smartphone, the “Wagglers” can incorporate research-specific combinations of sensors and install programs onto a single low-power “system on a chip” computer board, complete with a Linux-based operating system to control them.

“Waggle can gather the data, send it up to the cloud, and get a really fantastic picture of whatever physical processes the researcher wants, whether it’s city or climate data or even hyper-spectral data from plants,” said Argonne senior computer scientist and project leader Pete Beckman.

Waggle also constantly monitors power use, and the platform can be programmed to respond to specific conditions, like temperature and light intensity or a data signature from a camera or other sensor.

“Very few people are experts in embedded computer systems, so we’ve provided a framework for writing Waggle code that can run in-situ and have worked to take the guesswork out of the data collection process,” said Argonne computer scientist Rajesh Sankaran.

Jack Gilbert, an Argonne microbial ecologist, is part of a team working with the City of Chicago to create a dynamic microbiome map of the area’s waterways. His research goals include understanding how sewage and human activity affect the microbial quality of urban environments and waterways.

“Waggle can help us with environmental context and give us the ability to create an automated sensing grid,” said Gilbert. “We can then draw maps of how those parameters vary, so we can explore areas of greater or lesser activity inside a space. It’s incredibly valuable for us to have that continuously connected grid for data generation.”

The Argonne researchers envision a future where the types of sensor networks enabled by Waggle can be used to predict urban heat waves, flooding, and other weather hazards. Argonne’s scientists are also working with the City of Chicago to use Waggle as a platform to increase the spatial and temporal data available for a range of scientific and “smart city” applications, like the monitoring of climate, noise, or pedestrian traffic.

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