Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have developed low-cost sensors that might save lives by warning of deadly landslips in at-risk areas around the world.

The wireless sensors, developed using technology adopted in cell phones, are being tested and have been installed around an active landslip zone in the Monte Sano State Park in the United States.

A team from the Atmospheric Science Department of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is studying the sensors to see whether they can provide useful information about soil stability and the likelihood of a landslip.

In addition to weather instruments, the sensors use off-the-shelf technology that had been developed for other uses, such as motion detectors used in cell phones and robotics.

The sensor that tells when the soil is so saturated by rain that it may become unstable was developed for irrigation systems, to tell when a field has received enough water.

The sensors connect to the Internet using inexpensive cell phone connections, so scientists can monitor their instruments without needing to either run wires into remote areas or manually check the sensor boxes regularly.

Eric Anderson, a research associate in UAH’s Earth System Science Center, went to work with NASA which gave him access to Karthik Srinivasan, a University Space Research Association scientist who invented wireless sensors for NASA’s SERVIR programme.

The sensors were created as a low-cost tool for calibrating an airborne instrument that measures soil moisture. They could be moved from spot to spot as needed to gather data on the ground at the same time the airborne instrument was overhead. After seeing the sensors in action, Mr. Anderson recognised the potential value something similar might have in studying and monitoring landslips.

Mr. Anderson and Mr. Nair, an associate professor of atmospheric science, wrote a proposal that led to a $56,000 grant from UAH’s University Research Infrastructure Initiative.

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