FieldKit: Turnkey Open Hardware and Software for Conservation, Science, Exploration, and Education
The FieldKit is an open-source software and hardware platform that allows individuals and organizations to collect and share field-based research data, and to tell stories through interactive visualizations. Designed to be easy to deploy customizable, FieldKit can be adapted to meet the needs of diverse research teams, from biology and ecology to marine and environmental sciences, from post-doc researchers to elementary school students. FieldKit offers a simple platform for enabling live data expeditions, and for the creation and deployment of environmental sensor networks or in situ monitoring.
- To provide an adaptable, low-cost, easy-to-use common platform for field-based data collection
- To create an open hardware architecture to adapt a wide array of sensor modules, as well as a comprehensive open sensor library.
- To enable students, scientists, conservationists and explorers to easily share research data through open, standardized APIs
- To facilitate data storytelling through engaging visualizations and built-in connections to social media
FieldKit emerged from a collaboration between National Geographic Explorers Shah Selbe, Steve Boyes and Jer Thorp. While working in the field in Botswana, Angola and Namibia, the team realized that there were few good open source hardware and software tools that met the specific needs of field research. Responding to this need, we began to prototype software and hardware solutions, and field-tested these approaches from 2014 to 2017.
By turning Into the Okavango into a ‘live data’ expedition, we’ve been able to bring thousands of people along with us on expedition into the Delta, to collect, store and share 40M open data points, and to continuously measure ‘the heartbeat’ of this crucial system by monitoring it from afar. Over these last three years in the field, we have been prototyping core pieces of FieldKit, and are now ready to develop the platform into a publicly available, fully featured tool.
- Easy install and startup.
- Built-in APIs for data input and output.
- Automatic Map-based visualizations of data, viewable across devices
- Sensor hardware (core GPS modules and specific sensor modules) available as pre-made kits or as designs/plans
- Mobile (tablet / smartphone) apps for data input and hardware monitoring
- Built-in support for a broad range of data types
- Integration with Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.)
- Uniform data format
- Integration with popular Open Science databases
FieldKit will provide a software platform for collection, storage, visualization, and sharing of research data. After an easy installation process, users will have a fully functioning system that will include a public (or private) API, a map-based front-end, and a configuration interface.
We plan to offer both hosted and install-it-yourself versions of FieldKit. Similar to Wordpress, users will either be able to host their project with the FieldKit community (ie. myproject.FieldKit.org), or to download and install the software on their own servers (ie. myschool.edu/FieldKit).
Software goals for FieldKit include:
- design of a modular database + API system that can be easily configured and installed
- design of an extensible web front end that will allow for easy visualization of data, as well as display of project information, team biographies, etc.
- development of a plug-in architecture that will allow users to extend the core functionality of the FieldKit to meet specific project needs
- production of detailed documentation, clearly-written tutorials, source code examples and video lessons to enable easy adoption of FieldKit.
FieldKit hardware is a modular architecture where different sensor modules can be connected to a custom designed core microcontroller module. These form the basis of environmental sensor hardware that is carried along with the user or deployed in a fixed location to gather data and send it to the specific FieldKit instance. This can either be purchased as a kit, or developed using the open source designs and documentation on the FieldKit website. The hardware has the capability to be deployed in a single module or a meshed network of modules.
The Fieldkit hardware module (core + sensor) helps field scientists collect sensor data. By deploying:
- Gather data according to user-defined frequency, even after the scientist has left the field.
- Send sensor readings to their FieldKit.org instance using cellular, wifi, or satellite.
- Support long-term deployments through robust enclosure and solar power.
- Provide environmental data that is tied to GPS and time, for correlation to other data in FieldKit.org.
Hardware goals for FieldKit include:
- Provide modular, accurate environmental sensing and scientific expeditionary data collection capacity by leveraging open hardware and IoT developments.
- Collect scientific data to support environmental research and conservation through the use of standardized, proven low cost sensors.
- Provide GPS- and time-correlated data from sensor hardware in the field to a specific instance on fieldkit.org following the GeoJSON format and standard protocol.
- Develop a number of discrete sensor modules (water quality, weather, air quality, etc.) and the framework/documentation for open module development. This will result in an open source sensor library that will be available online.
- Design of an optimized product that can be available as open source files (gerber, BOM, code, 3D models) in kit or completed (turnkey) form. This will be offered in a tiered approach: DIY/educational tier at the very basic end (focused on low cost and STEM educational components), citizen science and general environmental sensing (focused on commonly available sensors and adaptability), and professional/scientists tier (focused on incredibly accurate sensors for scientific publication).