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Front. Earth Sci. | doi: 10.3389/feart.2019.00221

Low-cost environmental sensor networks: recent advances and future directions

  • 1University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

The use of low-cost sensor networks (LCSNs) is becoming increasingly popular in the environmental sciences and the unprecedented monitoring data generated enable research across a wide spectrum of disciplines and applications. However, in particular, non-technical challenges still hinder the broader development and application of LCSNs. This paper reviews the development of LCSNs over the last 15 years, highlighting trends and future opportunities for a diverse range of environmental applications. We found air quality, meteorological and water-related networks were particularly well represented with few studies focusing on sensor networks for ecological systems. Furthermore, we identified bias towards studies that have direct links to human health, safety and livelihoods. These studies were more likely to involve downstream data analytics, visualisations, and multi-stakeholder participation through citizen science initiatives. However, there was a paucity of studies that considered sustainability factors for the development and implementation of LCSNs. Existing LCSNs are largely focussed on detecting and mitigating events which have a direct impact on humans such as flooding, air pollution or geo-hazards, while these applications are important there is a need for future development of LCSNs for monitoring ecosystem structure and function. Our findings highlight three distinct opportunities for future research to unleash the full potential of LCSNs: (1) improvement of links between data collection and downstream activities; (2) the potential to broaden the scope of application systems and fields; and (3) to better integrate stakeholder engagement and sustainable operation to enable longer and greater societal impacts.

Keywords: sensor network, low-cost, environmental governance, Internet of thing (IoT), Information and communication technologies, Environmental Monitoring

Received: 19 Mar 2019; Accepted: 13 Aug 2019.

Edited by:

Rolf Hut, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

Reviewed by:

Lutz Breuer, University of Giessen, Germany
Peter M. Marchetto, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, United States
Chet Udell, Oregon State University, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Mao, Khamis, Krause, Clark and Hannah. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Feng Mao, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom,