Week of 11 October 2015

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Lots of little things this week. I upgraded my laptop to El Capitan so I could install the latest and greatest Android development toolchain, worked on the latest to/from Oli email, discussed soil probes and measuring glaciers with a group of you, considered balloons for aerial imagery and Internet service, listened to Jay Roberts of the CIL pitch me on adding a “wilderness” like component to our work in Iceland, and worked with Sally Southard in Alumni/Development on identifying likely places to apply for funding.

Progress Report 10/4-10

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During this week, I actually got to use the thermal camera! It’s super cool to just look at the thermal output from things I would never have imagined was detectable. This includes tracking footprints from the thermal signature left by our feet, the heat given off by the switch panels in CST, tracking living things such as squirrels and people, and trying to identify factors that effect the thermal signature of humans. Thick clothing seems to obfuscate heat, making other places seem to give off more heat. For example when my friend was without a coat, their face registered as 87 degrees F (on the surface) and torso around 82 F, whereas with a coat, torso was practically indistinguishable from ambient temperature (Ok maybe +10, but my point being that coats reduced heat output. I forgot to record this data precisely.), and their head warmed up to 92 +-2 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m still unclear on which birds exactly we will study, and will probably leave that decision to the ecologists in Iceland and perhaps Erin (if she has a preference). Once we know that, it might be possible to more accurately model the birds with maybe a local animal with similar insulative properties and heat output, but that remains to be seen…


In the mean time, I’ve tried to track squirrels with only a thermal camera and my success was very limited. The first problem was that it is hard to find a fixed focus at which the squirrel appears sharp. This might be fixed with the balloon-tether idea which would yield a fixed height from the ground and thus static focal range. However most pressing was the battery life on the camera. I had trouble getting 5 minutes out of the device. If this is standard, we might need to design a new battery, and if it’s a result of slow degradation of the battery, maybe we should purchase a new one. Next week I’ll be sure to post pics of us looking for small animals and how well that works!

Progress Report 9/27-10/3

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Apparently Erin and Charlie are talking to the Maintenance Dept. here at Earlham College about using their thermal camera. This would be an ideal solution, because it removes a huge amount of reinventing of the wheel. It would possibly take decades to get to the level of refinement found in a real thermal camera. In the mean time, I’m mostly waiting on info from the ecologists in Iceland who will tell us which birds we can actually study in Skalines. Until we have an idea of what birds to study, I’m not sure what kind of progress I can really make.

Progress Report 9/20-26

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In this week I explored more options for thermal imaging. None of these seemed particularly promising, many of these are either expensive, inaccurate, slow, or the range is limited. So far the thermal sensor options seem to be a “pick any two” of the following options: range, accuracy, cost. Unfortunately, because picking up the thermal signature of a small animal at a sizeable range requires a significant amount of all three, there’s either going to need to be a massive engineering breakthrough on my part, or a massive budget. The same problems persist for other parts of the camera, for example, the optics. Focusing long wave IR requires exotic materials which cost an enormous amount of money to procure individually or manufacture.


My conclusion is that thermal imaging is a field with an extremely high barrier to entry. I doubt that I have the skills or expertise to surmount the difficulties I’ve touched on, and I hope that another solution will present itself.

Another week, another $7USD

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Managed to frustrate Facilities trying to sort who owned the TIC, etc. It’s now in our possession for the duration. List management related to Skalanes and the various projects there; we have a GDrive document now with questions/answers for/from Oli at Skalanes. Talked to Erin about how to do an elevation transect from the house at Skalanes to the roof of the gangplank tower at the ferry terminal to see if a ballon might be practical for doing line-of-sight between the two. Sent email to SallyS in A/D about funding sources, also considering how to approach the Dean, etc. about their recent policy change of not supporting graduating seniors. Started to re-learn Android development, how often are these people going to change their minds…

Week of 20 September 2015

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Kristin and I wrote a long email to Oli @ Skalanes with a bunch of answers and questions for him, his reply arrived this morning. Spoke with Tara about soil sampling protocols and parameters, Erin about infrared imaging for the nest sites and scaling aerial imagery, and Deeksha and Eamon about data models and data conversion. We also talked about where all the various older sets are that need to be harvested and brought into the central data store on the field science machine.

Web Development done Python-style

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Over the past couple weeks I’ve been looking into lightweight frameworks for doing web development. I’ve been experimenting with Flask, which is amazingly simple.

I did some python/bash scripting to manipulate data left over from Iceland, and cleaned it up so it would all fit into one database schema. This should be updated later to comply with some kind of standard we all decide on.

I’m beginning to like the idea of developing our data interfacing software under an api-based model of programming. I think it is beneficial to decouple the database from the front end. I’m considering developing a restful api that returns data in a JSON format that can be interpreted and displayed on screen by some kind of JavaScript-based web app. This may also give us the flexibility to later integrate data into Android or desktop apps as well.

One of the big tasks yet to do is to figure out how to send the data between the client application and the database server. Does anyone have any ideas as to how to do that?

Preliminary research

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I was kindly reminded today by Tara to post some of my research so far.

My plan so far, to use a non-contact thermometer to better identify nesting sites, has been primarily based on a paper summarizing the use of thermal cameras to identify nesting sites. Using a Thermographic Imager to Find Nests of Grassland Birds by Edward W. Galligan, George S. Bakken and Steven L. Lima appeared in Wildlife Society Bulletin in Fall, 2003.

This paper, in summary, finds that thermal cameras cannot discern nests from any considerable distance, and found that they were useful in tandem with rope-dragging as a way of confirming nesting sites after potential nests had been previously identified. This is useful for my approach in Iceland, where years of rope-dragging will hopefully mean potential sites have been identified can we can then focus on that data rather than mapping massive swaths of terrain with painstaking detail. My primary ambition is to improve on the technique described in the paper by causing reducing nest disturbances caused by rope dragging.




Testing Sensor Possibilities

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Beginning this week, I plan to first test the sensitivity and capabilities of a non-contact thermometer. If this is successful, I will start looking for a potential thermopile to use in an array in order to detect heat more quickly. This array will probably covering a 360 degrees view, though much of the configuration depends on the results of our testing with the non-contact thermometer and studies into cost and effectiveness.

Possible variables include:
At what range are these thermometers accurate and fast? Should we be scanning for heat from a UAV or the ground? If we decide to scan from the air (UAV), should we use a quadrocopter or build a RC plane? What angle should we be scanning at? Should there be redundancy or overlap in the thermopiles? Should the sensor array be moving? How fast could it be scanning?

There are many other considerations, but I hope that my testing this week will reveal answers to some of my questions. Hopefully by the end of this week I will have a general idea of how the sensor array will be designed.

Progress Report for Sept 13-19

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Hi! This is my first blog post for the EC Field Science blog detailing my progress working on a survey of birds in Iceland. Be sure to check out my partner Erin’s blog.

During last week we focused on formulating a list of tasks with a few basic set of attributes, which I hope will help prioritize my work into a more manageable longer term structure.

Primary questions we have decided to first pursue include:

What are the properties of the birds we are studying?
How is thermal data digitally captured? Of the various methods, what are the uses and limitations of each?
One of our (Erin and my) first experiments will be attempting to detect animals (squirrels?) on campus with a non-contact thermometer. This might not be ideal, and I’ll have to double check that this is a reasonable method after learning more about the birds we are studying.

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