Raspberry Pi-Powered, 3D-Printed Weather Station Proves Its Worth in Months-Long Scientific Study

A study led by the University of Oklahoma proved that a low-cost homebrew weather station is more than a match for high-priced equivalents.

Researchers are beginning to deploy 3D-printed devices as a means of doing "more science with less," with a clever weather station proving its worth for researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Argonne National Laboratory.

"A weather station built using 3D-printed parts and low-cost sensors, based on plans and guidance provided by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research 3D-Printed Automatic Weather Station Initiative, was deployed alongside an Oklahoma Mesonet station to compare its performance against standard commercial sensors and determine the longevity and durability of the system," the researchers explain of the project to prove low-cost, 3D-printed devices could compete with commercial equivalents at a much lower cost.

"Temperature, relative humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, and precipitation measurements were collected over an 8-month field deployment in Norman, Oklahoma. Measurements were comparable to the commercial sensors except for wind direction, which proved to be problematic. Longevity and durability of the system varied, as some sensors and 3D-printed components failed during the deployment. Overall, results show that these low-cost sensors are comparable to the more expensive commercial counterparts and could serve as viable alternatives for researchers and educators with limited resources for short-term deployments. Long-term deployments are feasible with proper maintenance and regular replacement of sensors and 3D-printed components."

The test-bed system was built from 3D-printed acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) for improved UV resistance, while other hardware components include zip-ties and a clever off-cut of a frozen ready-meal's plastic tray for protection of the UV index sensor. A range of low-cost sensors for wind, rain, UV, temperature, and humidity were linked to a central Raspberry Pi for recording and transmission over Wi-Fi.

The 3D printed system ran perfectly for five months, after which the humidity sensor failed and other parts showed signs of degradation, with performance roughly equal to a commercial system in everything bar wind speed sensing. "I didn't expect that this station would perform nearly as well as it did," lead author Adam K. Theisen tells Phys.org, which alerted us to the study. "Even though components started to degrade, the results show that these kinds of weather stations could be viable for shorter campaigns."

The full paper is available under open-access terms in the journal Atmospheric Measurement Techniques.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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