Ecological Monitoring

Jimmy Chau (MS ’11), Aaron Ganick (EE ’10, MS ’12), Song Guo (PhD ’11), Jamsey Jean Michel (EE ’12)
Prof. Prakash Ishwar, Prof. Janusz Konrad, Prof. Thomas Kunz (Biology), Prof. Thomas Little

Funding: National Science Foundation (NSF), UMass Boston

A remote solar-powered camera was installed at Great Point Rip to observe the seal population.
A remote solar-powered camera was installed at Great Point Rip to observe the seal population.

Background: Sensor networking and video data streaming represent two maturing technologies for scientific observation and data collection with very different technical requirements. The former is designed assuming large numbers of units and long-term deployment in settings with small data generation rates. The latter can provide rich visual detail in collected data but requires significant energy resources to sustain data recording, communication, and storage. The research in this project seeks to enable networked video cameras to operate within sensor network constraints: at low energy consumption, in remote untethered settings, and in large spatial measurement scales.

The work is motivated by collaborations with ecologists and biologists that reveal many opportunities for the observation of species behavior that are characterized by events that are disturbed by human presence, are remotely sited, require long periods of waiting, or require large, detailed area coverage. Detecting, recording, and streaming to enable scientific discovery in these settings can expand our understanding of the environment.

Description: The project involves the development of a novel low-cost video sensor that operates on energy harvested from the environment and supports spatial and temporal sub-sampling of the camera field of view. Complementary research thrusts include the investigation of localized and cooperative in-network image analysis, data compression, and network path formation to enable delivery of video data to an outside observer while minimizing contention caused by multiple streams.

Results: We are demonstrating the use of video in remote settings in pilots at the University of Massachusetts Field Station and at the Coskata-Cotue Wildlife Refuge, both in Nantucket, Massachusetts. These sites are remote, possess a great variety of wildlife and features of interest, and are suitable for networks of video cameras. In association with the University of Massachusetts Field Station we have developed underwater housing for our IP camera and plan to provide observation, live to the Internet, for estuary activities.

In the summer of 2009 we deployed an additional solar-powered video camera at the Great Point Lighthouse in Nantucket, Massachusetts. This camera will be used for (among other activities) the observation of a resident population of harbor and gray seals. The camera is remotely sited with communications bridging nine miles of Nantucket Sound. Stills from the camera are recorded at ten- minute intervals and are maintained in an image database. We have also been using video to assess the health of bat populations at several locations in Massachusetts.


A. Clausen, T. Durkin, A. Ganick, J. Harris, T. D. C. Little, K. Murphy, J. Wilinski, “Coastal Underwater Field Observer with Remote IP Access,” in Proceedings of the Conference on Coastal Environmental Sensing Networks (CESN 2009), Boston, Mass., July 2009, [pdf], presentation [pdf].

T. H. Kunz, J. C. Chau, Z. Wu, L. Hong, J. Reichard, M. Betke, and T. D. C. Little, “Two Novel BatCams for Censusing Small Colonies of Bats,” 38th Annual North American Symposium on Bat Research, Scranton, Pa., October 2008, [pdf].

T. D. C. Little, P. Ishwar, J. Konrad, “A Wireless Video Sensor Network for Autonomous Coastal Sensing,” in Proceedings of the Conference on Coastal Environmental Sensing Networks (CESN 2007), Boston, Mass., April 2007, [pdf].


“Mysterious Illness Killing Bats,” WCVB TV Boston Channel 5 piece with Professor Kunz.
“Fly-by-Night Murder Mystery,” Living On Earth piece with Professor Kunz.
Solar-powered wireless access point for hosting remote cameras (Gallery).
Installation of the batcam at Moore State Park (Gallery).
Animation of daily images from the batcam (May-September) at Moore State Park [mov].
Animation of nightly images from the batcam (May-September) at Moore State Park [mov].

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