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The Internet of Things (IoT) and Preserving Wild Life

Cyril Darko

The internet of things (IoT) is constantly changing much about the world we live in. From the way we drive, how we make purchases, and even how we get energy for our homes. Sophisticated sensors and chips are embedded in the physical things that surrounds us, each transmitting valuable data that lets us understand how these things work and also how they work together. Many big companies in the IT world have utilize the power of IoT technologies to preserve nature’s most endangered species in a variety of ways as well as making the environment sustainable. At the latter, we will see how IBM used IoT technology to protect Rhinos in a game reserve. Before that, let’s take a crash course in the Internet of Things.

The internet of things is gradually making our environment, homes, workplaces and vehicles smarter and more measurable. Smart speakers like google home makes it easier to play music, get information or even set timers. There are home security systems that make it easier to monitor what’s going on inside and outside your premises. Smart thermostats with sensors that can be manipulated remotely to help us heat our home before we arrive. Also, smart lightbulbs have similar properties and can make it look like we’re home even when we’re not. Today we see self-driving cars and smart cities that help us build and manage our public spaces. IoT has created new revenue streams for businesses; rather than just selling a standalone product, like an engine, manufacturers can also sell predictive maintenance of the engine. IoT has helped many companies improve on their products and user experience, faster information giving city residents real-time updates on where to park or monitor personal health. It is the common IoT platform that brings us diverse information together and enable devices and apps to communicate with each other. So Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of internet-connected devices or objects that can communicate with each other with or without human intervention.

How it works

The process starts with the devices (cars, smartphones, etc) themselves which securely communicate with an IoT platform. This platform integrates the data from many devices and applies analytics to share most of the valuable data with applications that address industry specific needs.

The future with IoT is exciting and brighter. Less defective products as many systems, companies and devices connect together to solve real-world problems. There’s going to be increased efficiency and customer satisfaction. More business will launch new connected services to differentiate themselves and engage with customers more.

What is an IoT device?

Any physical object can be transformed into an IoT device, caveat is – it should be able to connect to the internet, it should be controlled or communicate information. A projector that can be switched on and off using a smartphone app is an IoT device. I’m sure you’re probably thinking of one right now, yes, it is an IoT device. Some large objects such as cars may be filled with many smaller IoT components with thousands of sensors collecting and transmitting data back to make sure it is operating efficiently.

Let’s take your car for example, your engine light pops up on your dashboard, you know there’s something wrong. Apparently, the sensor that triggered the check engine light monitors the pressure in the brake. The sensors are constantly communicating with each other. There is a component in the car called the diagnostic bus which gathers the data from all these sensors then passes it to a gateway (a portal that opens a connection between the car and the manufacturer) in the car. The gateway integrates and sorts the data from the sensors, and transmits the most relevant information to the manufacturer’s platform.

The platform is always gathering and storing multiple bits of information from your car and hundreds or thousands of cars like yours, building a historical record in a secure database. Also, the manufacturer uses the platform to create and manage applications that solve specific issues. In this case, the added rules and logic to the platform is set to trigger an alert when the brake fluid dropped below recommended level. Analysis does not stop there; the manufacturer uses the platform to track not only your car but same model of cars people are using. They use the data to find ways to improve the design and manufacturing process of the car itself. So, if same problem is sensed in the model, they can see if the cars were made at the same factory, used the same parts or came off the assembly line on the same day. Hence, streamlined management and a better safer car from the manufacturer.

Many big tech companies are using IoT to make the environment sustainable and preserve biodiversity and wildlife. Most noted is the IBM project in protecting endangered African Rhinos with IoT technology.

IBM Protecting Endangered African Rhino with IoT Technology in the Welgevonden Game Reserve

In the front line of the fight to save African rhinos. An average of three rhinos are killed every day in Africa. At this rate, deaths will soon outnumber births which makes rhino a key species that is becoming endangered due to poaching throughout Africa and especially in South Africa.

First, IBM’s approach to ward off poachers or catch them is superb. They colored animals that were not rhinos. Why would they do that? Well, when a poacher enters an area in the reserve, it is more likely to come across an impala than a rhino. Therefore, coloring mega herbivores is essential to detect poaching activity within the reserve. But that alone doesn’t guarantee success. It happens that they put collars with sensors on these herbivores. The sensors transmit information across a LoRa network which is a low-power wide area network. The data collected from the sensors get compiled to a 3G network onto the IBM IoT platform where the data is then analyzed real-time for the specific patterns (movement and behavior in response to danger, intrusion, etc.)

With these patterns analyzed, as soon as a poacher enters the reserve, these animals will behave differently or change behavior and from there they can tell where a poacher is and where he intends on going. With the help of IoT, they can catch a poacher well in advance before he even gets close to rhinos.

Cyril Darko

Full-stack web development, Technology, Entrepreneurship and Environmental Science.