A connected future for conservation – data from ‘The Field’

by ZSL on

‘The Field’… Say the words ‘The Field’ to a group of conservationists and it will immediately conjure up vivid memories of everything from sticky wet rainforests to burning dusty deserts. What’s more, it’s almost guaranteed that ‘The Field’ being imagined will have been the location of both their best and worst days working in conservation. 

A member of ZSL's Conservation Technology Unit installs equipment in Lewa

With improvements in conservation technology, time spent in ‘The Field’ has dramatically changed. The sort of painstaking research Diane Fossey undertook for almost two decades, where she daily tracked and watched her beloved mountain gorillas in the mist while armed only with her notebook, steely determination and binoculars, have largely disappeared.

Battery powered camera traps and smart sensors placed out remotely into the wild to collect images, sounds and other data is now the new normal. This has revolutionised conservation, making it possible to gather and quickly analyse huge amounts of new data in ways that could only have been dreamed of in the past. 

However, whilst our cities have become more and more connected, ‘The Field’ definitely has not; remaining as wild, remote and challenging as ever. This means that whilst conservationists can place their camera traps and smart sensors into ‘The Field’, they then have to blindly wait until they recover their devices to see their data.  

Unfortunately for conservationists, ‘The Field’ often looks down on these new fangled devices and with a well-placed spiders web, curious elephant, or a wind blown leaf can ensure that its secrets remain undiscovered. There can be nothing more disheartening for a conservationists than to wait for a number of months to collect their camera trap images to find that, on day two of the deployment, an elephant has smeared dirt on the camera lens and they have collected a thousand images of mud.  

ZSL aim to change this by developing a satellite connected technology system called Instant Detect 2.0. This system will connect conservationists to their cameras and smart sensors placed in ‘The Field’ from anywhere in the world using the Iridium satellite network. As the name suggests, there was an Instant Detect 1.0 deployed in 2015 which proved the concept and showed great promise. Instant Detect 2.0 is a full system update and is being built from the ground up from this knowledge. 


So what will Instant Detect 2.0 do? 

Instant Detect 2.0 connects a number of cameras and smart sensors to a single central location where all the data is gathered and stored, the device at this central location is called a base station. A base station is usually buried and camouflaged which makes it very secure and ‘Field’-proof. The base station can transmit this collected data using satellites to a user friendly internet-based interface anywhere in the world, where it is easy to browse, search and download from a single place. This allows conservationists to plan better, be more efficient and only trek deep into ‘The Field’ to their equipment when absolutely necessary. 

Camera trap test in Antartica
Instant Detect monitoring Adélie penguins in Antarctica

Instant Detect 2.0 can also be used to protect animals from poachers. Cameras and smart sensors specially designed to only trigger when a poacher is present can be hidden in ‘The Field’ by wildlife rangers. Instant Detect 2.0 will then sit there quietly monitoring a location until a poacher comes along. This frees up wildlife rangers who can then focus their patrols in other areas. When a poacher is detected by the system a threat alert is pushed to the wildlife rangers in under five minutes. Knowing where the poacher is allows the rangers to mount an appropriate response and stop the poachers before it is too late.  


Collaborating with sensor developers

At ZSL we want to connect as many conservationists in ‘The Field’ to their data as we can. To do this we are designing Instant Detect 2.0 to be modular and adaptable so conservationists can integrate their own sensing technology solutions. In this way Instant Detect 2.0 will act as their connection platform. This will ensure Instant Detect 2.0 can have the widest possible conservation impact and can harness new innovations in sensing solutions as they emerge.


A Technology Lab at ZSL 

To help with this ambition, ZSL’s Conservation Technology Team, the Arribada Initiative and the Institute of Zoology are in the process of refurbishing a laboratory to provide a collaborative technology space at ZSL London Zoo. This space will offer a place where scientists, technologists and engineers can gather to co-design and co-develop new technologies to solve challenges. We have also teamed up with Innovate UK Things Connected to install a Low Power Wide Area Radio Network to create a testing hub in and around the Zoo.

So, if you are a sensor developer and have an idea or a sensor you think could help accelerate wildlife monitoring and protection, please get in touch.

When will Instant Detect 2.0 be available?

ZSL will not release Instant Detect 2.0 until it is completely ready and the system has been robustly trialled in a number of ‘Fields’. As with any new technology we anticipate there will be early teething issues – although we have done our very best to avoid them – so at the moment it is not possible to put a definite date on this year’s release.

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