Low-cost In-ground Soil Moisture Sensing with Radar Backscatter Tags

Our work on low-cost, high accuracy in-situ soil moisture sensing has been accepted for publication at ACM COMPASS 2021. The paper is titled Low-cost In-ground Soil Moisture Sensing with Radar Backscatter Tags. ACM COMPASS aims to be the forum for the presentation and publication of original research from a broad array of disciplines, including computer and information sciences, social sciences, environmental sciences and engineering, that support the growth of sustainable societies worldwide.


Despite decades of research confirming the benefits, most farms do not incorporate soil moisture sensing into their irrigation practices. Soil moisture sensing can be broken into two broad approaches, both of which have drawbacks. In situ sensors are installed in the ground, tend to be difficult to deploy and maintain, and have high costs. Remote-sensing based approaches use radars to infer soil moisture from surface reflection properties. While completely wireless, remote sensing suffers from lower resolution and accuracy compared to in situ sensing.

We propose a hybrid approach that combines the advantages of both. This paper introduces the idea of using inexpensive in situ backscatter tags with above-ground radars, which enables completely wireless soil moisture measurements at low cost and with high-accuracy and high-resolution. Our key idea is introducing a simple, power efficient modulation scheme that enables commodity radars to easily detect and range the underground tag. We have benchmarked our approach against oven-based ground-truth measurements and demonstrated that, at a realistic depth and across several types of soil, we achieve a 90th percentile error of 4%, which is the same accuracy as state-of-the-art in situ sensors. We also demonstrate that our approach works with similar accuracy at a real farm.