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Forest-Monitoring Sensors Harvest Energy From Trees

The U.S. Forest Service is deploying a climate sensor network powered by energy harvested from living trees.
By Laurie Sullivan
Jul 02, 2009The U.S. Forest Service has confirmed that it will purchase a climate sensor network this summer from Voltree Power that is powered by energy harvested from living trees. The system employs low-power radio transceivers, sensors and patented bioenergy-harvesting technology to predict and detect fires.

Victoria Henderson, branch chief of equipment and technology for the U.S. Forest Service's Fire and Aviation Management unit, says the network will be deployed at the fire center in Boise, Idaho, and tested through the end of this year. The Fire Service will then make a decision regarding whether to widely deploy the technology.

Initial tests of a prototype began two months ago, outside the city limits. The tests have been aimed at determining the system's capabilities. The Forest Service has been evaluating the system's ability to collect data on wind speed, humidity, temperature and moisture, and to transmit it back to fire officials monitoring conditions in their respective areas.

Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service met with Voltree's CEO, Stella Karavas, on June 30 to finalize the design, agree to a contract and identify an estimated delivery date. "We'll try and break the system," Henderson says, "and if we don't find any issues with the design, we'll purchase an additional quantity."

Voltree's wireless mesh network, which utilizes the ZigBee standard, will integrate into a remote weather system to transmit data signals from one unit to another, until it reaches a central monitoring station built by Vaisala, a Finnish company that builds monitoring and measurement systems for meteorology and the environment. These stations provide a satellite microwave uplink connection enabling the system to share information with numerous government agencies.

According to Karavas, Voltree has been developing the fire-detection application for nearly two years, with help from the U.S. Forest Service. "In trying to maintain a healthy PH balance between itself and the soil, the trees produce energy," she says. "A circuit harvests and stores the energy that helps to power a mesh wireless system. Nodes that collect data are run under the forest canopy."

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