Scent ‘Spotlight’ Series – Athanasia Tsertou, ICCS

Our Second ‘Spotlight’ entry focuses on the work of ICCS, the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems, a research institute based in Athens. ICCS conducts research across several application areas, including security, transport, logistics and the environment. For the latter, ICCS interests include information and communication technologies for environmental applications, including sensors, sensor networks and embedded devices.

Athanasia Tsertou on ICCS & Scent – taking research knowledge to the environmental arena

Athanasia Tsertou is a senior project manager for research and innovation projects at ICCS and the project manager of Scent.

So how did a research centre in Greece find itself as a key partner in an EU-funded project for helping the environment?
“We’ve been involved in several environmental projects in the past having used sensors, in-situ equipment and sensor networks for obtaining and aggregating information on environmental issues. We have learnt about citizen science and its merits and thought it was a good idea to use citizens as new types of sensors in order to complement prior knowledge on the environment.”

ICCS is at the crux of Scent, acting as the coordinating force for all of the partners in the project, as well as managing the financial responsibilities.

“We’re involved in deploying the sensors in the Kifisos region of Greece to read soil moisture, water temperature and air temperature via low-cost solutions. And we will take the data from these sensors, as well as citizen-generated information for land-cover and land-use changes and ensure that the data sets are harmonized and follow common environmental standards.”

ICCS has been busy selecting such low-cost sensors as well as designing user friendly tools for environmental authorities to be able to generate and control crowd-sourcing campaigns. These campaigns will be designed to capture data for recording environmental changes, straight from the land itself, while at the same time developing a clear path for people across Europe to get involved so that they can provide useful environmental data too. ICCS is also currently coordinating the design of the architecture of the system, consolidating functionalities and aligning limitations of the individual technology components with the user expectations.

As well as being in the thick of this technical work, ICCS is fully aware that it’s good to talk – they are one of the most frequent communicators within the project, touching base with each partner as well as continuously updating the European Commission on the progress of Scent, “We’re quite happy with the partnership – it has proved to be very active throughout intense periods of collaboration.”

How big will these actions prove to be?

In our increasingly digitally-reliant societies, using data, and the right data at that, will be crucial across different industries and in our personal lives.
“Our technical work contributes to better use of relevant land-cover/use data; we aim to complement the data from existing monitoring systems through the availability of citizen generated data; we don’t aim to replace it. We want to help organisations and institutions working in the flood monitoring and management domains to harness citizen-generated data to its fullest potential.”

Athanasia speaks for ICCS and all of the project partners when she highlights her vision for Scent – it’s an ambitious project “We envisage Scent highly – as a complementary source of information for rapid environmental changes in land cover and land use. People-power is key; we can hopefully motivate people to get involved with Scent so that the project develops to its maximum potential, but in turn, that it helps the people who do get involved to be more aware of the effects of human actions on the world around them.”

Next Phase

As well as preparing to showcase the Scent project in Helsinki at the GEO 11th European projects workshop, ICCS will be implementing local activities in Kifisos – deploying and testing sensors, exploiting image and video footage to obtain water level and flow measurements and checking in with partners to ensure everything is running to schedule.

“Scent is a unique project because it’s also about re-using existing data from citizens and applying it to understand land-use changes – that’s innovation. And in the European regions where we’re testing Scent, Kifisos in Greece and the Danube Delta in Romania, this is something completely new.”

Scent is one of several EU-funded research projects under the theme of “citizen-engagement”, that involves both actively engaging with people across the EU while at the same time involving people from different backgrounds to help develop the project. “We’ve also relied on information from the pioneering citizen observatory projects, such as COBWEB or CITISENSE, discussing with them lessons learned from their campaigns and pilots. It is always useful to find out about the actual challenges faced, both dealing with data quality as well as people engagement.”

Even with her technical background and knowledge of similar EU projects, Athanasia admits that some of the ideas from people in the local focus groups in Romania and Greece have taken her by surprise, “One example was using water-level measuring tape in rivers coupled with image processing in the back-end, instead of costly automated solutions – this can save a lot of expense on the typically used costly water measuring equipment. On the other hand, I was surprised that local authorities still rely heavily on phone calls from local people to report flood related issues. There must be a more efficient way.”

Athanasia summed up why Scent will have serious impact when successfully completed, “It’s people-centric, so data from anyone and everyone across Europe who participates is used to improve our understanding of how the complex environmental phenomenon of flooding evolves and may impact lives and properties around us. But what’s good about Scent is that it forces us to engage with people for the results – we can develop some fantastic technology and methods, but this will be useless if we don’t reach out to people in the right way.”

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