HWC Tech Challenge: Smart Electric Fence Solution

As people continue to move into natural habitats, conflicts between human beings and wildlife continue to rise. Although there are a number of early-detection systems and tools in place to prevent human-wildlife conflict (ranging from electric fences to deep trenches, chili bombs, bees and fire crackers), they are not effective enough.

As a winner of the Human Wildlife Conflict Tech Challenge, the Shadowview Foundation is working in partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and WILDLABS to develop a smart solution that uses the power of the Internet of Things and sensor technology to minimize human-elephant conflicts in Northeast-India. We'll be following throughout the year as they work to refine and field test their system. 

Date published: 2018/06/05

In Northeast-India, human elephant conflicts are increasingly common. Electric fences are a key mitigation approached to avoid conflict, developed to prevent elephants from entering villages and crop fields,  However, elephants are intelligent animals and will eventually always find ways to break fences and enter crop fields. For example, tuskers learn how to break wires and poles with their tusks and elephants have been observed throwing logs and other tools on the wires.  Currently, to identify damaged fences and to understand how this happened, camera traps with motion sensors can be deployed. They send warning messages or trigger an alarm. However, camera traps are costly and their passive lasers can’t differentiate between elephants and other wildlife (or people) and are thus constantly triggered by any movement. As a result, the effectiveness of electric fences directly depends on the time and effort invested in maintenance and monitoring, which should be done around the clock.

Local farmers would benefit from one single system integrating the energizer and tools to monitor fence health and elephant presence. The information generated by the system should pinpoint and inform people about the location along the fence that requires repair and improvement, and when and where to respond proactively to elephants. This system of tools should be affordable on a local level, easily accessible and operated and require little maintenance. Our partnership with WWF and WILDLABS delivers a smart solution that uses the power of the Internet of Things and sensor technology to minimize human-elephant conflicts and deliver on these requirements. 


The Challenge

Design a smart and integrated system incorporating existing tools to enhance the effectiveness of electric fences. The system should:

  • Detect when and where in electric fences power leaks away due to drought or obstructing vegetation that hamper full conductivity; 
  • Detect when and where an electric fence is broken by an elephant and identify the behavior of that particular animal. This will foster learning and further improvement of fence design;
  • Detect elephants approaching crop fields or villages in an early stage to allow people to respond appropriately and in a timely manner.

Our Solution

As you may already know, the Internet of Things (IoT) is well underway to introduce us to the next Industrial Revolution. It will radically change the way we live, interact and travel. In the broadest sense of the word, the IoT encompasses everything connected to the internet, but it is more and more being used to define connected objects that are able to collect and interchange data using embedded sensors.

When used effectively, IoT makes the world around us more comprehensible and transparent. And the more we know about the world around us, the better equipped we are to anticipate to changes. This applies more than ever to the world of conservation.

To use IoT for the benefit of wildlife protection, we cover conservation areas with a private LoRaWAN™ network infrastructure. LoRaWAN™ is a low power Wide Area Network for wireless IoT connectivity. It is designed to allow long range communications at a low bit rate among things (connected objects), such as sensors operated on battery. A LoRaWAN™ Network comprises of one or more connected gateways, which can send and receive data from sensors and actuators. All data are translated into usable information on an interactive map in a web application.

Our team aims to reduce conflict between people and elephants using the wireless LoRaWAN™ (Long Range Wide Area Network) telecommunication technology. A variety of sensors can be linked to this network that detect animal presence and power leaks in electric fences that are being used to keep out elephants. Alarms linked to the sensors alert people by setting off buzzer flashlights or sending SMS messages, to warn villagers when a fence has been damaged or broken by elephants.

shadowview setting up

Our Plan

This project in partnership with WWF and WILDLABS focuses on a low maintenance, low-cost monitoring system, allowing human beings to detect the presence of an elephant in time and take timely and appropriate measures to avoid human-elephant conflict. To remotely monitor the human-elephant conflict area, we will set up a LoRaWAN infrastructure, including the installation of a LoRaWAN™ gateway along the border of the Sonitpur District. 

Once we have established a stable network, we can start with the deployment of fence monitoring sensors. The fence sensors measure power leaks in the electric fences, that will allow us to detect when the first line of defense is interrupted. When the fence is down, animals can easily cross the borders and this is what we aim to prevent. Finally, we will also be working closely with the other HWC Tech Challenge winner, the Arribada Initiative, who are delivering the sensors that will detect elephant presence. 

All collected data will be presented in a user-friendly web application. This will allow the forest patrolling team to access a map of the area, with all sensor data presented in a clear and accessible way. This information can be used to monitor the elephants in the area and to plan and direct the team’s operations (Situational Awareness). In addition to the sensors, we will also place alarms. When the sensors detect a power failure in the fence or detect elephant presence within a certain distance of te fence or villager houses, the alarms will activate a buzzer flashlight to warn the villagers. We will also send SMS and e-mails to the community when needed.

Preparation and Local Implementation

The preparation starts with an analysis of the area in order to build a good radio network design. Finding the right spot for placing the gateway is essential for a good functioning solution where all sensor and actuators are provided with a strong connection.

This map (above) shows an overview of the project site that will be covered. We always prefer to work with existing infrastructure. Exactly for this reason we will make use of the tower located close to the ranger station.

We have recently started with the development and testing of the improved gateway station that will be placed at the tower. In the upcoming weeks we will also have the first versions of our new fence monitoring sensors available. Lastly, we are preparing the integration of our solution with the solution of the other HWC Challenge winner, the Arribada Thermopile sensor. Their sensor will be able to detect elephant presence near the fences and report this via the LoRaWAN to the web application.

In June, we placed three sensors to monitor the high voltage fence and an alarm to inform the villagers and the rangers to prevent dangerous human-elephant encounters. 

About the Author

Tim van Dam is a specialist on the environmental Internet of Things and outdoor connectivity. He is the founder of The Internet of Life, which provides Internet of Things products and services to improve Quality of Life, with a specific focus on the protection of endangered wildlife in Africa. Before founding the Internet of Life and partnering with ShadowView, he worked as a Business Developer for KPN. In this role he generated new business opportunities within the area of the Internet of Things and Big Data to create new Smart systems such as smart cities, factories, cars and harbors.

Join the HWC Tech Challenge group to continue the discussion about the Shadowview Foundation's winning solution. 

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