Open-Source Hardware Is a Low-Cost Alternative for Scientific Instrumentation and Research


Scientific research requires the collection of data in order to study, monitor, analyze, describe, or understand a particular process or event. Data collection efforts are often a compromise: manual measurements can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, resulting in data being collected at a low frequency, while automating the data-collection process can reduce labor requirements and increase the frequency of measurements, but at the cost of added expense of electronic data-collecting instrumentation. Rapid advances in electronic technologies have resulted in a variety of new and inexpensive sensing, monitoring, and control capabilities which offer opportunities for implementation in agricultural and natural-resource research applications. An Open Source Hardware project called Arduino consists of a programmable microcontroller development platform, expansion capability through add-on boards, and a programming development environment for creating custom microcontroller software. All circuit-board and electronic component specifications, as well as the programming software, are open-source and freely available for anyone to use or modify. Inexpensive sensors and the Arduino development platform were used to develop several inexpensive, automated sensing and datalogging systems for use in agricultural and natural-resources related research projects. Systems were developed and implemented to monitor soil-moisture status of field crops for irrigation scheduling and crop-water use studies, to measure daily evaporation-pan water levels for quantifying evaporative demand, and to monitor environmental parameters under forested conditions. These studies demonstrate the usefulness of automated measurements, and offer guidance for other researchers in developing inexpensive sensing and monitoring systems to further their research.

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D. Fisher and P. Gould, "Open-Source Hardware Is a Low-Cost Alternative for Scientific Instrumentation and Research," Modern Instrumentation, Vol. 1 No. 2, 2012, pp. 8-20. doi: 10.4236/mi.2012.12002.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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