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"Ground Control" -- The Discovery Files

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Iowa State researchers are working on creating high tech networks of underground sensors that could be buried throughout a farmer's field to supply the farmer with constant feedback on soil moisture and other ground conditions.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Getting The Dirt (SOUND EFFECT: shovel) On -- Well, The Dirt.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Iowa State researchers are working on a high tech underground -- literally, underground (SOUND EFFECT: outdoor farm) in sprawling farm fields. They're getting their hands dirty because they believe there could be a better way for farmers to monitor soil conditions.

The idea is a network of wireless soil sensors. Devices buried throughout the field that could give growers constant feedback on soil moisture, and other factors.

The prototype sensor, about the size of a business card, has no antenna or wires. An array of them would be planted deep enough in the ground (SOUND EFFECT: tractor) so that farmers should be able to plow, sow, reap, till, and do what farmers do, without bumping into them. The team even designed a locator system so you can dig 'em up later.

Spaced about 80 to 160 feet apart in a grid, the sensors would transmit data back to a central computer that generates hi-res, real-time condition reports. Uh, soil snapshots. Dirty pictures? (SOUND EFFECT: cow moos) These could help farmers use just the right amounts of water and fertilizer to maximize crop yield -- and minimize costs.

The next step? The researchers are building and testing a working network of sensors to be able to fine-tune, expand and maximize its capabilities.

It's field work. In this case, in a real field. (SOUND EFFECT: rooster crows)

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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