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A Different Kind of Quantified Self

MIsfit Shine

Misfit Shine “activity monitor”

I just got a personal tracking device that tells me how many calories I’ve burned, how much sleep I got last night, and how many more steps I need to take to meet my daily goal. Lots of people I know are busily keeping track of their activities with these sorts of devices, competing with each other to get the highest daily total.

As I fiddled with the device and got it set up, I wondered if it would be possible to create a similar device that would track things like how much carbon we each add to the environment, how much waste we generate, how much water we use—and how much we’ve done during the day to mitigate our negative impact on the planet. The daily goal: to get as close to impact-neutral as possible. Read more…

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Introducing Animal Warrior

animal_warrior Animal Warrior* has all of the elements of a great video game: a perilous task, bad guys, all kinds of obstacles to overcome and puzzles to solve, exotic settings, high-tech weaponry, and general mayhem.  

Well, it could have all of those things, if someone would just take the idea and produce it. In addition to making a pile of money, the game could do some good in the real world by highlighting one of the most important conservation issues of our time.

The goal: Stop evil poachers from capturing and killing endangered species like rhinos, elephants, lions, tigers, orangutans, and leopards in remote areas of Africa and Asia. The poachers are using assault rifles, helicopters, and high-tech detection and communications tools to locate and kill the animals – and the game wardens trying to protect them. Stop the poachers, save the animals, and help the wardens.

Game action: Outsmart the poachers and smugglers by undertaking paramilitary maneuvers to thwart, capture, or kill them, overcoming obstacles and various natural perils in remote and challenging environments, and creating alliances with local game wardens and communities. Avoid inadvertently injuring or killing randomly appearing eco-tourists and innocent locals, and don’t cause significant habitat destruction as you confront and battle poachers.

Not only would Animal Warrior be a blast (literally) to play, it could also help to create wider awareness of and empathy for the real-world problem of poaching. Extra bonus: some portion of the likely-to-be-huge profits could be donated to current anti-poaching efforts in Asia and Africa. It’s a win-win-win. Who’s game?

*My working title for the game; if you create it, you can call it whatever you want. And take all the credit, too.

Elephant photograph by nickandmel2006 on flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Update: Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge

Taking to the skies to save rhinos

Rhinoceros

By Kore (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This October I wrote a post about the Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge, a project sponsored by Kashmir-Robotics to help save the rhinos of Kruger National Park. Participating teams will compete for a $25,000 prize.

It’s exciting to see that 100 teams from 19 countries have signed up to participate; there are four multinational teams.

 


Volunteer to help the Challenge

Challenge organizers are in need of volunteers to help with marketing, team coordination, blogging, social media, engineering, and more. See the Challenge Facebook page for more information and updates on the competition. 

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Makers: Build the winning drone and win $25,000

Wildlife Conservation “Build and Fly” UAV Challenge

Kashmir-Robotics, a division of the Al-Kareem Foundation, is hosting the Wildlife Conservation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Challenge to stop rhino poaching in Kruger National Park.

The Problem

Kruger National Park in South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s rhinoceros. Since 2010, over 50% of the rhino population in Kruger has been killed by poachers harvesting the rhinos’ horns for the Asian black market. The park is patrolled by rangers, but since Kruger is about the size of New Jersey, it’s nearly impossible for them to catch poachers in the act.

“Most of the rhino poaching in South Africa’s Kruger National Park is done by incursions from neighboring Mozambique. Poachers enter the park and cross the unfenced South African border in the bush at night. They will then hunt for rhino and other animals using large caliber hunting rifles and night vision goggles. They are also armed with AK47 automatic assault rifles. They can illegally enter the park anywhere along the 220 mile border with Mozambique and operate for 1-3 days or longer at a time. This is rough African bush. There are almost no roads, only narrow game paths. No runways. No cellphone signal at ground level. They need to be detected and stopped before any animals are shot. “

The Challenge

The challenge is to design aircraft that can be launched in the bush, operate for hours over the rugged terrain, detect and locate poachers, communicate over existing commercial infrastructures, and be recovered in the bush — all for under $3000 in materials. Read more…

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Essential things you probably don’t know much about

We’re talking plankton. Yep, plankton.

Amphipod

Amphipod (Zooplankton)

Bet most of you don’t know much about plankton, but you probably should, since they contribute substantially to the oxygen you breathe, among other essential planet-supporting activities. Now there’s a fun, mind-expanding way to learn about these exceptionally hard-working organisms—and help scientists collect data about the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

In mid-September, Zooniverse launched a project to crowd-source identification of plankton from photographic images captured at various locations around the globe. By identifying the numbers, sizes, and types of plankton found in these areas, scientists can analyze where and when plankton occur at different depths in the ocean; this information is a key to understanding the health of the oceans’ ecosystems.

Read more…

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Wild Again

On Kickstarter: Beautiful Photographs of Habitat Restoration

Tea Picking in Kenya

Tea picking in Kenya. Photograph © Barrney Wilczak.

In the early 1900s, thousands of acres of Kenyan forest were cleared for the production of monoculture crops of tea and the eucalyptus used to dry it. Now some of that habitat is being restored by the Ecological Restoration Alliance, a group of botanic gardens from the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, China, Australia, and Jordan. Their goal is to restore 100 damaged and degraded habitats across 6 continents in 20 years. The places they’re targeting include tropical forests, prairies, wild places within cities, wetlands, and coastal sites — ecosystems that are threatened and no longer able to sustain people’s livelihoods or to support biodiversity.

The Alliance’s approach includes restoring wild areas, protecting restored habitats, and creating socioeconomic benefits for local communities. And it’s an approach that works. In just 12 years, restoration of the upland forest in Kenya has transformed a eucalyptus plantation into a thriving forest with over 150 bird species, a wide range of mammals, and hundreds of rare and endangered tree species. Read more…

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Can technology rescue the forest elephant? Yes, with your help.

Three Practical Challenges: Help the Elephant Listening Project Save What They Can’t See

Forest Elephant

Because these elephants spend most of their time in the remote darkness of the forest, collecting data on their behaviors is difficult.

Most people are aware of Asian elephants and the African elephants of the savannahs. A third variant on the largest land mammal on earth walks the rainforests of Central Africa, mostly out of sight and out of mind. The forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is so poorly known that efforts at designing effective conservation strategies are greatly hampered, yet these are the only elephants left on earth that enjoy a mostly free and unconstrained existence. They make their home in closed-canopy forests where most of the standard tools for studying animals are ineffective. We desperately need to find ways to leverage the incredible advances in engineering and software that define human activities today to help this amazing animal survive.

In recent decades, human threats to forest elephants have escalated at rates that, if unchecked, will push them to extinction before our generation has passed. From an estimated 1 million animals when the Phoenicians first ventured down the west coast of the African continent, they are now reduced to 100,000; last year alone about 12,000 were slaughtered for their ivory.

Graph of Elephant Population Decline

Forest Elephant Populations Down by 90 Percent
Numbers before the 1950s are only estimates, but decline began to accelerate in the late 1800s with the opening of the Belgian Congo for ivory extraction. The World Wars dampened demand, but this resurged in the late 1950s, and with it the killing. The world ban on ivory sales in 1989 only briefly decreased poaching pressure and now demand in Asia is so high that ivory sells for $1500/lb. Poaching intensity has rocketed.

But how does one study an animal that we only directly observe when it comes to a forest clearing a few times each year? Additional challenges are posed because we can’t catch these three-ton beasts, and it’s dangerous to be on the ground with them.

The Elephant Listening Project (ELP), at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been tackling these problems through sound, eavesdropping on the communication system of forest elephants to track some basic aspects of their biology. To save the elephants, we need a quantum advance in our understanding of their biology, which requires both tracking individuals and moving data efficiently out of the forest to analysis hubs or the cloud. In addition, we also need to find ways to excite and engage young people living in elephant countries, perhaps by getting them directly involved with the biodiversity of their forests. Read more…