ASU scientists use commercial satellite data to determine water flow in Southwestern rivers

July 30, 2021

NASA has funded an Arizona State University project to use commercial CubeSat data to determine the presence of water in arid and semiarid rivers in California and Arizona. CubeSats are small satellites, typically the size of a shoebox, that can orbit the Earth and even travel in deep space.

The study, led by hydrologist and professor Enrique R. Vivoni of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, will provide data and assessments that can assist Southwestern states in their efforts to manage water resources, impose regulations on pollution and maintain water quality in rivers.  A Dove satellite from the aerospace company Planet. Doves make up the world's largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites and provide fresh Earth images daily. Credit: Planet Download Full Image

Traditionally, approaches for determining water in rivers are conducted using ground-based field surveys that use the presence (or absence) of plant or animal species associated with flowing conditions. These approaches are usually labor- and time-intensive and often limited by access to remote areas. 

For this study, Vivoni and Zhaocheng Wang, who is a graduate student in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, developed a new approach to use Earth-observing satellites to detect flowing water in arid rivers.

“One of the strengths of this approach is the ability to map the streamflow regime of rivers across large arid and semiarid regions at very high spatial and temporal resolution,” Vivoni said. “This is much more difficult, or nearly impossible, to do via ground-based field surveys.”

Vivoni and Wang are working primarily with remote sensing imagery from two commercial satellite companies: Planet, which has a fleet of nearly 200 Earth-imaging satellites and images the whole Earth land mass on a daily basis; and Maxar, which designs and manufactures satellites and spacecraft components for communications, Earth observation and exploration.

“Commercially acquired remote sensing data have unprecedented resolution. I think they provide new and exciting insights into Earth science research,” Wang said. “I am thrilled for the opportunity to make innovations happen using those cool datasets in this project.”

A satellite image of the Hassayampa River near Wickenburg, Arizona. Credit: Planet

The study will run through November 2022 and they plan to provide data that can be used for flood forecasting, hazards estimates, determining streamflow status, developing surface-groundwater interaction studies and assessing riverine habitats. The access to satellite imagery is provided by the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition program established by NASA.

“Our motivation for this study has been the recent changes in the protection of Arizona’s rivers, which removed ephemeral (infrequently flowing) rivers from the waters of the United States designation,” Vivoni said.  

This work builds on a recently completed project with Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in the Hassayampa River of central Arizona. In collaboration with agency scientists, Wang and Vivoni developed a new method to detect when, and how often, water was present in large rivers using changes in the color of the channel sediments.

"Our partnership with ASU has yielded promising results to document the streamflow status of Arizona's waters using satellite imagery," said ADEQ Senior Scientist Patti Spindler. "ADEQ supports the use of this high-quality research and novel methodology to enhance our understanding of the state's waters."

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Tech experts share what you need to know about the Internet of Things

July 30, 2021

If someone asked you to explain what the Internet of Things (IoT) is, could you? Even though the term was introduced by Kevin Ashton of Procter & Gamble in 1999, the idea actually dates back to 1982 when students at Carnegie Mellon University invented the first “thing” — an ARPANETAdvanced Research Projects Agency Network, aka the predecessor to the internet.-connected Coca-Cola machine.

To learn more about what IoT is, what’s currently happening in the field and how the Cox Connected Environments Collaboratory is integrating IoT into its processes, we checked in with three experts: Brian Nickell, product and integration lead for Smart Communities at Cox2M; Matt Shorts, head of product and technology at Cox2M; and Chris Richardson, deputy CIO of product ownership and leadership development at Arizona State University. Examples of IoT Download Full Image

IoT 101

To define it simply, the Internet of Things describes the network of internet-connected physical objects (the “things”) that collect and transfer data using sensors. By collecting and transferring the data, these objects are improving user experience for things like wearable health monitors, connected appliances and smart home security systems.

“IoT is the latest evolution of the internet where we now connect things (products, gadgets, sensors, vehicles, etc.) to the internet for the purpose of offering new or advanced user experiences for gathering data or addressing other commercial/industrial needs,” Nickell said.

“IoT simply is the phase where objects that previously had no ‘voice’ can now ‘talk’ on the internet, much like people and computers before,” Shorts added.

Richardson said that connected cars and smartphones are examples of what a consumer might see and not think of as IoT.

“Tesla and Apple have the best use of IoT anywhere in the world,” Richardson said.

Brian Nickell

IoT allows you to deploy software updates that enhance your experience, like diagnostically understanding the health of your car or monitoring how your body moves with the iPhone or Apple Watch.

“The data collected is transforming your experience,” Richardson added.

How it started, how it’s going

To say that we’ve come a long way since that first IoT device is an understatement. According to reports, there are currently over 35 billion IoT devices installed worldwide and 75 billion predicted by 2025. Let that one sink in.

So, what is making all this innovation possible?

1. Lowering costs

Chris Richardson

“On the device side, we’ve seen many advancements in lower cost chipsets (MCUs) and efficiencies in power," Nickell said. "These solutions can now run on low-cost batteries for many years. Related to this is light and energy harvesting, so you then strive for less waste by not having to replace batteries but also reduce the maintenance aspect as well.”

Both Richardson and Nickell agreed that affordability plays a big role.

“The cost of sensors is coming down dramatically,” Richardson said, adding that the cost of storing data is also decreasing.

2. Technology advancements

On the connectivity side, Nickell said that whatever technology we use (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ultrawide band, LoRA or cellular technologies) is certain to advance every couple of years through industry alliances and standards bodies.

“Advancements could be across one or multiple areas: examples include user/device capacity, speed or bandwidth, range, etc,” he said. “This provides tremendous value for us and the industry in general and Cox is a member in most of these groups.”

3. Better data

Matt Shorts

Shorts said that the ability to capture and act on all the data that is now available has made a big shift in the industry.

“All these connected things give us new insights and capabilities that were not previously possible.”

4. The time is right 

When it comes to smart cities, Richardson said that IoT “got a bad rap” because there was a lot of promise and hype without the products delivering at the same speed of rising popularity.

However, as the costs continue to decrease and people’s understanding of what’s possible is improving, he said, “Those who piloted it and stuck through (the smart city revolution) are seeing results. … There’s a bunch of components of tech that had to evolve for IoT to be realized.”

The future of IoT is bright … and more affordable, smarter and connected

Richardson believes that every industry will see broad adoption of IoT.

“Anything that can be connected will be connected in the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Shorts thinks the focus on connectivity will shift to advancing insights on specific things like machine learning and artificial intelligence — helping experts unlock previously unseen value in the data will be a focus in the next 10 years.

“They enable us to be more predictive and prescriptive with the information we have,” Shorts said. “It’s no longer about looking at what we collected and trying to decide and actionize the data. The advancements in technology can identify those areas, call them out, and in some cases even action it without any human intervention at all. That's the most exciting because the systems can start to optimize themselves for the lower-level, less-value tasks where people can concentrate on the higher-value, human-only tasks.”

How the Cox Collaboratory integrates these trends on the ASU campus

Think of the Cox Collaboratory as a testing opportunity for some of these cutting-edge technologies.

“The Cox Collaboratory was set up because (Cox is) trusting ASU to bring ideas so that they can test their technology, test out whether there’s a product market fit,” Richardson said. “We can collectively share in that if we find the right uses.”

Nickell says it’s Cox’s goal to use the latest technology advancements to help solve problems that cities, campuses or the general public might encounter. For example, installing a LoRA network on the Tempe campus enables the improved DART service to function, but other projects can also utilize this network. The Collaboratory is also currently exploring how to use video analytics and machine learning to help the ASU community.

“Ultimately, the Collaboratory can help accelerate the most promising trends,” Shorts said. “If there is something that’s starting to gain steam, we can quickly do real-world testing or create proof of concepts to help further these trends. The Collaboratory can also help identify new trends as they emerge, because we can try out new technologies in an open environment that fosters collaboration and idea generation.”

Learn more about the Cox Collaboratory and contribute a big idea.

Stephanie King

Content Strategist, University Technology Office