Flexisense: Low-cost Environmental Sensing Tools for Field Scientists

After several similar conversations with disconnected field scientists who expressed their frustration and limitations of collecting environmental data during field research in remote areas, we decided to comprehensively examine and redesign in-situ sensing systems. Flexisense is a collection of distinct yet connected efforts to improve the user interface, power, and communications technologies in this space.

Field Scientist Interviews

To ground our research and understand the problem space, I am co-leading a team of graduate students from Georgia Tech and Northwestern in conducting semi-structured interviews with field scientists and other key stakeholders. As of April 2023, we have interviewed 13 people from a variety of universities, tribal conservation organizations, non-profits, and governments. We are in the process of qualitatively coding these conversations to distill opportunities and insights in this space.

This project also serves to build relationships with stakeholders and to increase the likelihood that scientists will adopt the novel technologies we develop.


To decrease the burden and complexity of ecological field work, I led a team to develop a Hackpack, which is a wearable device that automatically wirelessly downloads data from in-situ sensors and provides the wearer with status information. This effort began as a class project for CS 7470: Mobile & Ubiquitous Computing at Georgia Tech, taught by Dr. Thomas Ploetz. The current prototype uses a Raspberry Pi that communicates via Bluetooth to pull data from sensors, check for common warnings and errors such as missing timestamps or low battery, and displays this information on the user’s smartphone. The Hackpack stores the data until the user has reliable Internet coverage, eliminating the need to physically connect to a sensor to download data or to use a laptop in the field to ensure the data and sensors are working as expected.

Field Deployments

In the summer of 2023 and beyond, I will be designing and deploying environmental sensing systems to discover why native wild rice, called Manoomin, is in decline. In partnership with Ojibwe tribes and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Consortium (GLIFWC) in the American Great Lake region, I will shadow field scientists to understand the ins and outs of field research. In conjunction with traditional ecological knowledge, this work also enables oversight and legal accountability for ongoing conservation efforts on reservations and ceded territory in the area. This project is supported by the NSF CoPe and STRONG grants.

Additionally, we will deploy similar sensors in Madagascar, continuing work from the MESH project.

These two deployments will help to focus our technical development, while the interviews will ensure that our work is generalizeable enough to be useful in other applications.