The Internet of Things or IoT as it is often referred to as, is often praised in the news for its contributions toward ‘smart cities’ or for its optimisation in efficiency in factories and weather prediction, but the less well documented, and arguably more pressing IoT developments centre around the environment and its preservation.
What is the IoT?
In the most basic terms, the IoT is a series of interconnected ‘computers’ (electronic devices capable of receiving data and performing certain functions) that communicate with each other. For example; The city of London’s recently launched project to connect a series of street lamps to improve efficiency of operation, with the aim in mind that these lamps or ‘nodes’ in more technological terms, will sometime in the near future be able to monitor pollution levels and more. With the rapid increase in broadband speed and availability, the day that everything is connected may be closer than you might think.
The IoT is already being put to good use in the conservation world, with a plethora of start-ups tackling issues such as poaching, deforestation and endangered species. Below are 4 examples of IoT implementation in the ecological sphere
“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live,” the ominous words of Albert Einstein which have featured far too often in the last few years. With last year marking the tenth year since beekeepers in the US reported that thousands of their bees were dying, a phenomenon that has since been named ‘colony collapse disorder’. Since then, companies like Bee Corp have been working to ‘stop the bleeding’ by tracking the health and behavioural patterns of the insects and their hives. By placing a battery powered device in the hive, data can be collected in regard to the temperature of the hive, which is then analysed by an algorithm, which in turn alerts the beekeeper in the case of an irregularity. The temperature of the hive correlates directly with the health of the hive; when the Queen is healthy, the temperature is kept steady by the worker bees in order to help incubate the Queen’s eggs, but when the temperature drops, it signifies a move by the bees to supersede the her. The Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), have also pioneered a new form of ‘bee surveillance’ by which bees are fixed with miniature tracking devices so their behaviour patterns and whereabouts can be analysed.
17% of all global carbon emissions come from deforestation, which not only contributes to global warming but also destroys the natural habitat of many species, of which a large percentage are endangered. The Rainforest Connection has developed the RFSx monitoring system which is attached to indivual trees around various rainforests. The system works using old mobile phones as listening devices which monitor noise activity to detect signs of illegal foresting or poaching, i.e. motorcycle engine, voices, chainsaw etc.
At the turn of the century, the Iberian Lynx was declared critically endangered with less than 100 animals in existence. This number has now tripled thanks to the implementation of the IoT in a cutting edge Lynx breeding facility in Southern Spain. The Lynxes are fitted with location collar which allows them to be georeferenced and therefore monitored visually by drones, which are far less intrusive than human beings. In the near future the Lynxes will be fitted with virtually weightless subcutaneous sensors which will carry out the same functions as the collars, but require less human intervention when the battery runs out.
Dutch energy company Tryst Energy has been working with Mkomazi Rhino sanctuary in Tanzania to attach sensors to 20 Black Rhinos. Much like the technology used on the Lynx and Bee as previously discussed, the trackers would provide insight into the location and well-being of the animal, whilst helping to prevent poaching. The real difference here is the size and lifetime of the device; previous sensors have had to be drilled into the horn of the anaesthetised Rhino, whereas the Tryst tracker needs only four hours of low-level light to provide 24 hours of power to the sensor, which is claimed to have a 50-year life. This presents a huge increase, not only in efficiency in the way that the animals are monitored, but also in cost; the price of replacing battery dependant IoT devices every five years or so is extremely expensive, which renders its use by smaller operation to be a non viable option.
These four examples represent but a minuscule fraction of the positive effect the increasing world-wide implementation of the Internet of Things is having on the environment; could the IoT hold the key to a safer, cleaner and more efficient planet?