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How SmartParks uses connected sensors to fight poaching




Have you heard about smartphones, smart cars, smart cities, and even smart refrigerators, but have you heard about smart parks? Smart Parks is a team of Dutch-based engineers who dream of creative ways to realize the founder’s vision of harnessing the power of modern technology for conservation.

“Big tech organizations like Google and Microsoft have big nature maintenance programs, but that’s not their core business,” said Tim Vandam, one of the co-founders of Smart Park and a telecommunications expert. say. “We know that unless something is your core business, you can reach the high performance levels required for technical devices.”

The philosophy of smart parks is to apply the innovative, R & D-focused approach more commonly found in Silicon Valley to conservation issues. They are exploring various forms of technology, but best known in parks and protected areas, mainly in Africa, for building so-called LoRa networks that can connect multiple devices to create “smart parks.” I am.

LoRa (long-distance) technology is a network protocol that uses radio waves, similar to 4G and Wi-Fi networks. The main difference is that 4G and Wi-Fi are designed to use large amounts of power to send large amounts of data over short distances, while LoRa technology delivers small amounts of data, about the size of a text message. It is designed to send. It’s a long way and uses much less power.

“”[LoRa] It was great for connecting many things in remote areas and ensuring that park managers protecting those areas had the opportunity to get more data from the field, “Vandam said.

LoRa’s lower power requirements allow Smart Park to design smaller tracking devices than traditional satellite colors. This is especially advantageous when tracking wild dogs that can’t support the weight of a large battery, or perhaps surprisingly, small animals like rhinos. Rhinoceros can easily carry the weight of a heavy battery, but the collar doesn’t fit the body.

Protecting the endangered Southern White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) and the endangered Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is one of the current main objectives of smart parks. The cytolacquer is just below a 3 cm cube, embedded in a hole in the rhinoceros horn and small enough to be sealed by a veterinarian.

“The industry has been looking for a way to track rhinos using GPS for a very long time,” said African Parks, a technology development manager at African Parks, a conservation NGO that works with governments and local communities to manage protected areas. One Geoff Clinning said. LoRa technology is used in many parks. “Knowing where all the rhinos are every morning and every night is a huge leap.”

The hope of Smart Parks is that the data collected via various sensors such as animal position, fence voltage, vehicle movement, etc. and reported to the neurocenter via the LoRa network will benefit poaching prevention activities. is. Consciousness.

“Everyone thinks poaching prevention is a problem with boots on the ground. The Timbo Afrika Foundation, which recently signed a contract with Smart Park to set up a LoRa network covering 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) in central Turiblock in southern Botswana. Director and co-founder Jurgen Elbertse said, “We are skillfully and intelligently identifying the assets we want to protect.”

Elbertse draws on the analogy with protecting diamonds. Instead of trying to protect the entire building, we will focus on building a secure vault to hold the diamonds. In poaching prevention terms, “situational awareness” gained through sensors means that efforts can be strategically directed to the location of major animals.

But while technology does help prevent poaching teams, it’s not a silver bullet, Clinning said.

“LoRa is a very valuable tool in the park manager’s toolkit, but it’s one of many,” he said. “Even if you can track something, you need a well-trained ranger that you can monitor on foot. [the animal].. “

All sources agreed that LoRa would be particularly useful in remote areas where mobile networks are not yet in place. The park has to pay the initial setup fee. This depends on the infrastructure of the location and whether the staff has the skills to set it up without assistance. If your park already has a good network of towers for communications, adding a LoRa gateway to each tower will cost you about $ 1,000 per tower.

Once the network is established, the park can collect not only animal tracking, but also a set of information to prevent poaching, such as temperature data and water levels in major water holes. You can also flick the switch to turn on the water pump. This used to take hours for rangers to make a round trip in some large parks.

Despite its benefits, LoRa is not always the best solution everywhere, Clinning said. In protected areas with good mobile networks, LoRa setup and maintenance costs can still be higher than using cellular networks.

Elsewhere, the size that the network needs to cover is so large that it is less suitable for the network. For example, Clinning said satellite colors are still the best tool for tracking mixed forest elephants (Loxodonta Cyclotis) and bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo. .. Here, elephants move over vast areas, making LoRa towers in specific locations vulnerable to vandalism.

Building a LoRa network is just the beginning for the Smart Parks team. Van Damme’s latest project is the Elephant Edge collar, which not only conveys its position, but also tracks the sounds and movements of animals. Combining this wealth of new data with machine learning is expected to generate new insights into elephant behavior and ecology.

The biggest challenge for smart parks may be to secure long-term funding rather than solving technical puzzles. Organizations are divided into non-profit organizations focused on research and development and companies that sell their products. However, Smart Parks are reluctant to charge enough to make a profit on their collars, are looking for grants to cover their R & D, and are permanently underfunded protected areas. I prefer to keep my costs as low as possible.

But that’s not easy, Van Dam said. “Many major NGOs don’t understand R & D, nor do they understand innovation. Supporting the running costs of an organization like a smart park is somehow not sexy.”

Smart Parks also keeps all technologies open source. That is, anyone can inspect and modify the design and code. This ensures that others in the industry don’t waste time doing the same work, and that others can do it if the organization needs to shut down. I am aiming. It also aims to train locals to share knowledge so that others can duplicate the installation, for example, at no cost to fly with a team of experts. For Elbertse, this knowledge sharing is an important plus of using a technical approach to conservation.

“The advantage is to invest in locals who help us gain more knowledge and education,” he said. “That’s important. I want to hire an electronics person for me rather than someone who has to have a gun, but I think it’s a better investment.”




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