Creating the “internet of small things”

Rovers patrol rows of crops and drones monitor from above on U.S. farms. But to realize the full potential of digital agriculture, these systems need to become much more efficient, scalable and resilient.

Data engineering expert Somali Chaterji, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, is pursuing these advances with a $550,000 National Science Foundation Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate CAREER Award. She named her winning project after Sirius, the brightest star visible from Earth at night.

“I want this project to shine a light on cyber-physical systems and make them more capable,” Chaterji says. “By 2025, there will be 38.6 billion connected devices worldwide — held in the palm of our hand, flying in the air, roving on the ground or embedded in the soil. We want to make these devices not just data collectors, but intelligent devices performing their own data analysis and making quick, local and efficient decisions.”

Chaterji’s goal is to create what she calls “the internet of small things,” a network of small devices to make data collection, analysis and actuation more sustainable. One goal of Sirius is to use on-device intelligence to enable devices and the network to refine and reduce data transmission, which accounts for the bulk of energy consumption by networked devices.

As devices become smaller and multipurpose, Chaterji wants to discover whether she can approximate heavyweight data analysis algorithms so they fit the devices.

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