Cambridge Consultants has developed a robust satellite-connected camera designed to help combat poachers and assist in the identification of rare wild animals.
The new camera has been developed as part of the Instant Wild project, a Zoological Society of London (ZSL) initiative that relays images taken in the wild to users of a mobile phone app who can then help field workers identify the images.
‘Through that method [Instant Wild] they were able to identify animals that had previously not been seen,’ said Richard Traherne, head of wireless at Cambridge Consultants. ‘A mountain mouse deer in Sri Lanka was the first one.’
Once deployed, the system has to withstand the vigour of extreme weather conditions, avoid drawing attention to itself, and remain operational for an extended period of time.
Traherne explained that ZSL approached Cambridge Components with a brief to extend the system’s capabilities and make it flexible enough for future modifications.
In use, a cluster of cameras transmit images back to a central node (located 100m away) at 858Mhz, an unlicensed band that Traherne explained gives reasonably low frequency to get good penetration into jungle or vegetation.
Each unit contains an off-the-shelf camera capable of taking jpeg images at around 320×240 pixels resolution. A Raspberry Pi processing unit inside central node then compresses the photos to 10kb per image.
The central node also contains a satellite modem working on the Iridium satellite communication network. Cambridge Consultants is Iridium’s development partner for all of its subscriber equipment, including the satellite transceiver used in the central node. The company says its insight into the Iridium system enabled it to develop the image transfer functionality back to ZSL’s servers in London.
A key element of the camera is to take pictures whilst remaining inconspicuous. To help with this Cambridge Consultants developed a 10W, 60 LED infra red flash unit that allows the cameras to take pictures at night without producing white light that would either scare animals or identify the location of the camera to poachers. The system has also been made robust enough to withstand the attentions of any animal, such as a hyena, that might take umbrage to it.
The cameras have the option of being powered either from 12 x AA batteries, or a single external battery connected through an external connector such as the central node.
‘We talked about rechargeable but ZSL were very keen to use a battery that could be bought in any bazaar around the world,’ said Traherne, who added that the central node has the option of a solar panel connection, which could be used when deployed in a tree canopy.
‘ZSL are interested in other ways to improve and extend sensing,’ said Traherne. ‘If you accept…that there are 12 cameras spread around 100m away from the central node then you have a diameter of a couple of hundred metres covering a large area.
‘If you extend that using gunshot detection, where you can triangulate between them physically, you can start to detect events outside that 100m, and also indicate the approximate direction from that network of sensors.
‘Another technique would be ground vibration, where fairly straightforward algorithms will tell the difference between an animal appearing and tyres on the ground that could mean [the presence of] a poacher.’
The system is currently being installed in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park to create a safety net of eyes and ears to protect threatened wildlife. Once the system has been installed in Kenya, there are plans to extend it to cover locations such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Himalaya and the South Pole.