Smart mapping to turn sci-fi into reality

Aug 21, 2014 -- Smart mapping technology will play a vital role in moving Australia’s environmental monitoring into the realms of science fiction, according to one of the world’s leading micro-sensing technology experts.

CSIRO science leader Dr Paulo de Souza said the field of environmental monitoring is on the cusp of an evolution which promises to open up a new level of understanding of the world around us.

Dr de Souza’s research group is developing sub-millimetre sensors which are fitted to bees in order to track their movements and reactions to changing environmental conditions.

However, he said the key to fully understanding the vast quantities of data collected via the bees lay in the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology.

GIS – or smart mapping technology – is used to map and analyse data and reveal insights not apparent when looking at information in a spreadsheet.

“Scientists are currently working with radio frequency technology like UHF and harmonic radars that are suitable for large animals and insects,” Dr de Souza said.

“These systems require large infrastructure and can’t respond to the demand of monitoring a swarm of smaller insects.

“What we’re creating with this micro-sensor technology is high frequency data tracked in real-time, in a small space.

“The density of the data is one million times higher than what we’ve previously worked with, so we can generate far more accurate insights into the environment around us.

“Imagine thousands of sensors flying in the atmosphere, providing an amazing amount of data and bringing us unprecedented coverage of the environment – this is what we are creating.

“In the future, this means we will be able to use GIS technology map this information in a meaningful way so we can understand the data.”

Dr de Souza will discuss how developments in micro-sensing technology are set to drive change in environmental monitoring at the Asia-Pacific’s largest geospatial conference – Ozri 2014, hosted by GIS industry giants Esri Australia – in Adelaide this October.

He said his monitoring project could see insects become the next generation of sniffer dogs, mine canaries, weather vanes and even extra-terrestrial explorers.

“Many insects have an acute sense of smell used to find mates, locate food, avoid predators, and gather in groups,” Dr de Souza said.

“By mapping and understanding their behaviours we can harness these natural attributes and sensitivities to detect chemicals of interest or weather changes.

“In the future it may also be possible to have them as part of space exploration, helping to calibrate instruments and gather temperature and atmospheric data from asteroids, moons and even planets.”

Ozri Technical Director John Hasthorpe said GIS technology was already widely used by Australian national security agencies.

“This new application of GIS technology would enable analysts to visualise information collected using insect micro-sensors,” Mr Hasthorpe said.

“Scientists can then map the variations in insect behaviour – individually and as a group – and from these maps more complex analysis can be performed to reveal additional information, such as whether particular bomb-making chemicals are present.”

Hosted by Esri Australia, Ozri 2014 will bring together 500 geospatial industry professionals to share technology applications, innovations and advancements.

The event will be held at the Adelaide Oval, from 1 to 3 October 2014.

Registration is now open at

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