Ultra-Low Power Sensor Network

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OPEN 2018
Salt Lake City, Utah
Project Term:
06/21/2019 - 06/20/2023

Critical Need:

Most farmers today rely on visual crop scouting to identify insect, weed, and pathogen outbreaks. Crop scouting is expensive and imprecise over large scales; farmers tend to catch outbreaks late, after significant yield damage has occurred, and over-apply pesticides because they lack accurate information. Further, Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) require periodic battery replacement for each sensor, which hinders WSN use and deployment. This inherent power limitation means only simple sensor functionalities, such as pressure, temperature, and humidity sensing, are available. To detect weed and insect pressure early, an extremely low-power advanced WSN is needed that is capable of measuring information-rich output parameters, such as gas traces.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The University of Utah will develop ultra-low power sensors engineered to passively detect specific volatile emissions, and enable the early detection of invasive weeds and/or insects in biofuel crop production. Farmers currently lose about 40% of crops due to weeds and insects that ideally need to be removed within a week of detection to prevent significant damage. Earlier detection could minimize such losses, and enable decreased applications of pesticides and herbicides, significantly increasing the overall energy efficiency of crop production and economic viability of energy biomass generation.

Potential Impact:

The proposed technology is disruptive and effective because it enables the realization of a sensor network capable of measuring gas emission directly from crops using ultra-low power.


America’s farms are a strategic asset critical to national food and energy security. Using farmland more efficiently will enable increased production of feedstocks for food, feed, and fuel.


The proposed low-power WSN can detect crop damage caused by insect pests within a few hours and weed germination within a few days, enabling a much faster and more precise response vis-à-vis herbicide/pesticide application than imaging or manual detection.


The proposed technology will significantly reduce the cost and amounts of herbicides/pesticides in farmland, eventually increasing the energy and economic efficiency in biofuel production.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Olga Spahn
Project Contact:
Prof. Hanseup Kim
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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