Small World Engineering currently works with non-profit Institutes to create prototypes or field gear for use in the area of biology; the monitoring and tracking of animals, plants, ecosystems. Current partners include the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS), Butler University, Grace College and others.
One project is called the BioCorder. Named after the infamous Star Trek Tricorder instrument which could be held up by a scientist and tell almost anything, our BioCorder is now a mobile sensing platform that relies on small computer technology, FLASH storage, GPS and WiFi. The current tag is about 25 x 50 x 10 mm in size and weighs about 20 grams. it has a local battery and a solar cell array to keep the battery charged over long periods of time.
Ideally, the tag is attached to an animal that periodically comes back to some fixed predictable location. As the animal roams around the tag wakes up and takes data relating to the current location and state of the animal. After each measurement period, the data collected is stored on a FLASH memory card, like what is used in cameras and music players today. Eventually the animal comes back “home” and as this happens all of the data stored up to that point is transferred wirelessly to the scientist monitoring the experiment to a base station located near the animal’s nest.
Above is a simplified block diagram of the BioCorder. The “pink” elements in the diagram are the power management system and the “green” elements are the compute-storage-comms-sensing system. Power management is especially important in the design of the BioCorder as one key goal is for the tag to potentially work for years without human interaction.
The current tag is dominated by the current technology for GPS. As this improves or as we are able to understand better the requirements of this element of the design, it is expected that the tag will shrink considerably in size. Ideally it will shrink by about 50% every year for the next few years!
The first experiment to use the tags will be one to monitor turtles in a canal in Indianapolis near Butler University. After that we hope to also place them on animals on Barro Colorado Island at STRI in Panama.
While the BioCorder is one interesting project developed by Small World Engineering, we are engaged as partners in other projects as well.
For example, we are working with others around the Silicon Valley to help specify and build a new form of radio telescope that uses large arrays of computers and software to define what is observed and how. This project, the SDRT or Software Defined Radio Telescope is part of the Allen Telescope Array owned by UC Berkeley and the SETI Institute.
We are also working with BuildFast, the winner of the California Clean Tech Open in the Green Building category to help expand the definition of affordable housing for the developing world.
If you have ideas for us to consider or to collaborate on, please contact us. We enjoy working in areas where the long term monitoring of our world and universe might provide insights to future generations that will face tough challenges from climate and biosphere changes.