This system incorporates a wireless transceiver capability with embedded protocol software to minimise power consumption and maximise data throughput. What's more, these chips work wirelessly and contain their own batteries. They can communicate over large distances for their size, with a current range of about 10m, but again the Tyndall team hope to push their range further. "Finally, they are also looking at the potential of 'Power Harvesting' for the chip, where it would supply its own energy needs through solar energy or ground vibrations, making the chip completely independent,'' says Tooke.
She believes these could have many applications outside of the PLANTS project. "We were speculating, for example, that they might have an application in hostile environments, like growing plants in space or soil-less systems. Potentially, these are situations where our system could prove very useful."
The sensors and transmitters are two key elements of the system, but its heart is the management software, designed by Computer Technology Institute, Greece, that gathers, and then acts, on the data operating as a plant/environmental context management system. Called ePlantOS, it can control the deployment of water, nutrients or pesticides, as necessary.
One of PLANTS' demonstrator went live at the Eden Project end March 2006 and was the centre point of a special workshop to introduce the technology to experts in the fields of plant science, crop management, microelectronics and software engineering. A temporary exhibit will now show PLANTS results from mid-April to end June 2006 at the Eden Project.
Three partners lodged a patent for the technology developed during the PLANTS project. "They certainly hope to carry the work further, by initially developing a prototype, and then possibly commercialising the system," says Tooke. "That work will go beyon