Waggle: An IoT Platform by Scientists, for Scientists

Computer scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory are working with a range of stakeholders, from academics to urban planners, to deploy easy-to-use sensor networks for better understanding the built and natural environments in which we live.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 18, 2015

A decade ago at the Argonne National Laboratory, a nonprofit research facility operated by the University of Chicago for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), senior computer scientist Pete Beckman began co-teaching a class on wireless sensors at the university, and also experimenting with wireless sensor networks at the Lab. That research evolved over time. Initially, it was used to track environmental conditions in data centers. Then, Beckman says, a growing number of scientists and researchers within Argonne and across the DOE began finding applications for wireless sensors, "so the Lab said, 'Let's see if there is a way to build a reusable, deployable platform that could then be used for a variety of projects.'"

That work has evolved into a platform called Waggle, named after the figure-eight dance that honeybees perform to communicate the location of nectar, pollen and water sources to other bees in a hive. "I think of bees as the very first wireless sensors," Beckman says. "They go out, collect data, and come back and report."

A Waggle node used in the Array of Things project in Chicago (Photo: Mark Lopez/Argonne National Laboratory)
Waggle is now being deployed in a fast-growing list of projects in which sensors are utilized to track environmental factors in both urban and rural or agricultural environments.

The Array of Things project is being led by the Urban Center for Computation and Data at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative of Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago. Its partners include a long list of academic institutions around the United States, as well as technical consultancy from industry partners including Cisco, Schneider Electric, Intel, Qualcomm, Motorola Solutions and Zebra Technologies. Its mission is to collect real-time data regarding the city's environment, infrastructure and activity, for both research and public use.

The city of Chicago hopes the Array of Things project, which launched last year with the deployment of 50 nodes, will enable municipal planners not only to track environmental factors such as air quality and noise, but also, by additionally monitoring the movements of pedestrians (by counting unique but anonymous Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radio signatures), to better understand how the city's natural and built environments impact its livability. The project's goal is that residents, software developers, scientists and policymakers will all join together to analyze the collected data, in order to make the city a healthier, more energy-efficient place to live.

Ecosystem Spectroscopy (EcoSpec), a project led by Yuki Hamada, an Argonne scientist specializing in remote sensing, plans to deploy Waggle nodes outfitted with specialized hyperspectral cameras to measure the reflectivity or absorption of invisible light wavelengths (well outside the bands that humans can see) by plants and soil. The goal of this research is to track, for example, photosynthesis or carbon sequestration as a means of studying ecosystem dynamics, and ultimately to improve climate forecasting. An urban climate modeling project that Argonne computation computer scientist Robert Jacobsen is leading, and which seeks to better understand how cities impact climate and weather models, through heat islands and other effects, will also employ the Waggle platform.

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