‘The Field’… Say the words ‘The Field’ to a group of conservationists and it will immediately conjure up vivid memories of everything from sticky wet rainforests to burning dusty deserts. What’s more, it’s almost guaranteed that ‘The Field’ being imagined will have been the location of both their best and worst days working in conservation.
With improvements in conservation technology, time spent in ‘The Field’ has dramatically changed. The sort of painstaking research Diane Fossey undertook for almost two decades, where she daily tracked and watched her beloved mountain gorillas in the mist while armed only with her notebook, steely determination and binoculars, have largely disappeared.
Battery powered camera traps and smart sensors placed out remotely into the wild to collect images, sounds and other data is now the new normal. This has revolutionised conservation, making it possible to gather and quickly analyse huge amounts of new data in ways that could only have been dreamed of in the past.
However, whilst our cities have become more and more connected, ‘The Field’ definitely has not; remaining as wild, remote and challenging as ever. This means that whilst conservationists can place their camera traps and smart sensors into ‘The Field’, they then have to blindly wait until they recover their devices to see their data.
Unfortunately for conservationists, ‘The Field’ often looks down on these new fangled devices and with a well-placed spiders web, curious elephant, or a wind blown leaf can ensure that its secrets remain undiscovered. There can be nothing more disheartening for a conservationists than to wait for a number of months to collect their camera trap images to find that, on day two of the deployment, an elephant has smeared dirt on the camera lens and they have collected a thousand images of mud.
So what will Instant Detect 2.0 do?
Instant Detect 2.0 connects a number of cameras and smart sensors to a single central location where all the data is gathered and stored, the device at this central location is called a base station. A base station is usually buried and camouflaged which makes it very secure and ‘Field’-proof. The base station can transmit this collected data using satellites to a user friendly internet-based interface anywhere in the world, where it is easy to browse, search and download from a single place. This allows conservationists to plan better, be more efficient and only trek deep into ‘The Field’ to their equipment when absolutely necessary.
Instant Detect 2.0 can also be used to protect animals from poachers. Cameras and smart sensors specially designed to only trigger when a poacher is present can be hidden in ‘The Field’ by wildlife rangers. Instant Detect 2.0 will then sit there quietly monitoring a location until a poacher comes along. This frees up wildlife rangers who can then focus their patrols in other areas. When a poacher is detected by the system a threat alert is pushed to the wildlife rangers in under five minutes. Knowing where the poacher is allows the rangers to mount an appropriate response and stop the poachers before it is too late.
Collaborating with sensor developers
At ZSL we want to connect as many conservationists in ‘The Field’ to their data as we can. To do this we are designing Instant Detect 2.0 to be modular and adaptable so conservationists can integrate their own sensing technology solutions. In this way Instant Detect 2.0 will act as their connection platform. This will ensure Instant Detect 2.0 can have the widest possible conservation impact and can harness new innovations in sensing solutions as they emerge.
A Technology Lab at ZSL
To help with this ambition, ZSL’s Conservation Technology Team, the Arribada Initiative and the Institute of Zoology are in the process of refurbishing a laboratory to provide a collaborative technology space at ZSL London Zoo. This space will offer a place where scientists, technologists and engineers can gather to co-design and co-develop new technologies to solve challenges. We have also teamed up with Innovate UK Things Connected to install a Low Power Wide Area Radio Network to create a testing hub in and around the Zoo.
So, if you are a sensor developer and have an idea or a sensor you think could help accelerate wildlife monitoring and protection, please get in touch. ZSL Conservation Technology Team members Sophie Maxwell, Sam Seccombe and Emily Loving can be reached through their profiles here in the WILDLABS community. Alternatively, visit the Instant Detect page to find out more.
When will Instant Detect 2.0 be available?
ZSL will not release Instant Detect 2.0 until it is completely ready and the system has been robustly trialled in a number of ‘Fields’. As with any new technology we anticipate there will be early teething issues – although we have done our very best to avoid them – so at the moment it is not possible to put a definite date on this year’s release.
About the Author
Sam Seccombe is the Field Specialist in the Conservation Technology Unit at the Zoological Society of London. He is currently working on Instant Detect and spending time in Tsavo West in Kenya testing and trailling new equipment. Sam studied Zoology (2.1 Hons) at Bristol University, specialising in animal behaviour and previously spent 4.5 years in a front-line reconnaissance Regiment in the British Army, leaving at the rank of Captain.
This article first appeared on the ZSL blog and was published here with permission.
Are you a sensor developer? Our Sensors group is a place where you can connect with Sophie, Sam and Emily from the Instant Detect team and discover other projects using sensors to improve conservation outcomes.