Anyone who has been annoyed by the slightest technology glitches in the workplace should consider what Anthony Pagano is up against in his day job. He is tasked with tracking 700-pound polar bears with high-tech collars and custom apps in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as part of a greater effort to save the animals from the perils of climate change.
In a place where winter temperatures hover around -40 F, where connectivity is almost impossible to get and where his brawny team of workers is rough on the equipment, the gadgets he needs give “rugged” a whole new meaning. “Most of the [hardware] manufacturers I’ve dealt with can’t even fathom the challenges involved,” says Pagano, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
But Pagano isn’t complaining. For all the massive hurdles he faces, the opportunities that consumer-driven technology has opened up to him and his peers in the animal conservation world have been remarkable. Software and hardware breakthroughs are enabling wildlife biologists to track and study threatened species in ways that were once considered pie in the sky.
Here are a few examples:
Heavy-duty fitness trackers for endangered species.
Pagano is in the early stages of a study of polar bears that relies on 1-kilogram collars outfitted with accelerometers to store data on each of the mammal’s movements 16 times a second. The ultimate goal is to quantify how much energy polar bears are expending to survive as melting ice packs complicate their hunt for seals and other prey. The hope that sensors will soon allow conservationists to monitor the energy levels of polar bears and other animals for signs of illness or other distress has big potential. “Energy to animals is like money to humans,” explains Rory Wilson, a zoology professor at Swansea University in Wales. “It determines who is top dog.” Wilson foresees that insights into how animal biology and behavior changes as their own health declines will enable scientists to predict the spread of avian flu and other contagious diseases that threaten humans.
Animal tracking from space.
A remote sensor will be attached to the International Space Station as early as next year to photograph movements of elephants, birds, boars and other animals with GPS devices with unprecedented specificity; researchers say the goal one day is to monitor flight patterns of monarch butterflies and other insects.
3-D imaging of animal habitats.
Wildlife tracking has long existed in a two-dimensional world. That’s changing fast as scientists look to advanced remote sensing technologies that rely on lasers or sonar to generate 3-D images of dense forests and vast oceans in the hopes of tracking species and identifying new ones. Three-dimensional imaging technology is also being used to study how low California condors fly in their habitats (to understand the needs of that threatened species in relation to those of wind-energy developers) and how deep Australian sea cows swim when hungry or asleep (to better inform restrictions on commercial fishing nets).
Drone patrols for poachers.
Throughout Africa, rangers are deploying a combination of drones, ground patrols and advanced analytics to combat animal trafficking, an illicit market with estimated sales of $10 billion a year. (See related story, Drone Technology Polices Animal Poaching.)
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com