Technicalities

TURTLE AND THE AIR: A team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts is combining an effort to study the movements of turtles with a project to explore new methods of energy management and wireless networking.

The team, led by faculty members Mark Cormer, Emery Berger and Brian Levine, has been attaching small units with Global Positioning System receivers and flexible solar panels to the backs of wood turtles and snapping turtles to track their movements. Concern over the turtles' future is one reason for the project ' wood turtles' numbers have been shrinking because of development and highway deaths, the researchers said ' but the chance to advance wireless communications is another.

According to the project's Web site (GCN.com/807), the team attaches the GPS receiver and solar panel along with a sensor platform, such as a Crossbow Mica2Dot, and a 250mAhr lithium polymer battery to each turtle. Because the receiver can quickly drain the battery, energy management is important.

The team assigns a duty cycle that allows the solar panel to recharge the battery. The program is written in the team's Eon language, an extension of the university's Flux programming language, with a runtime system designed for solar charging. The team also is developing an Eon compiler, and its source code is available on the site.

The systems on the turtles exchange information when they pass within a certain distance of one another and send data to a central location when they pass near a monitoring station. The researchers hope information about the turtles' movements will help biologists protect them. And the postcard-size sensor-and-tracking system might even someday find new applications in employee management.

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