#IoT saving the Amazon

Posted on 31st January 2013 in environmental, Internet of Things

As a passionate environmentalist who’s always looking for economical win-win solutions to thorny environmental issues, this one caught my eye!

Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors blogged recently about a great example of the IoT making a real difference, in this case in the Amazon (disclaimer: Chris is my co-organizer for a forthcoming Meetup for IoT people in New England, and he’s built me into a number of new business proposals), where two firms, Cargo Tracck  and Gemalto, teamed up to catch thieves who had switched from their former clear-cutting to more selective processes aimed at only high value trees:

“M2M modules optimized to operate in austere network and harsh physical environments in protected regions of the Amazon.  Devices are attached to trees.  A number of mechanisms are embedded in the devices to notify authorities when a tree from a protected/ managed region is harvested.  The solution operates in near-real-time, and has back-end services that have enabled authorities to more quickly apprehend poachers, keep the contraband off the market, and provide layers and layers of economic and quality of life benefits to a number of stakeholders.”

This reminds me of the project of creating a trillion-sensor  “central nervous system for the planet” including the rainforests that HP proposed several years ago as part of its CeNSE project but has not been willing to discuss recently (when I attempted to interview personnel for the project when I was writing my e-book about the IoT the company’s PR department flatly refused. Hmmm…).

One particularly interesting aspect of the program is that it uses a RED (Radiation Data Exchange) technology “that boosts effective operating ranges in austere power and network coverage environments.”  As Rezendes points out, using the RED system doesn’t rely on transmitting massive amounts of real-time data, which would create headaches in terms of big data processing and also would require larger energy supplies for the sensors. Instead, it reports “short bursty data” based on exceptions to the normal data, which would indicate out-of-the-ordinary occurrences such as harvesting of one of the trees.

Here’s how it works:

“Smaller than a deck of cards, the tiny tracking device is camouflaged in a resin case made to blend in with the trunks of trees. Ten of the devices were covertly installed in remote active harvesting areas deep in the jungle. In addition, specialized night vision cameras were installed in nearby trees to capture visual evidence of illegal logging activities. The sophisticated power management system of the Cinterion module provided superior power efficiency allowing the device to operate reliably in the field for over a year without recharging batteries. When lumber gangs harvested a tagged tree, the solution immediately began sending alarms to law enforcement officials. Cargo Tracck’s leading-edge geo-location algorithms, along with the R.E.D. boosters provided unprecedented location accuracy, delivering tracking data and alarm notification to officials as soon as harvested trees passed within 20 miles of a cellular network. This allowed officials to remotely track trees and intercept and arrest thieves in the act of selling timber at sawmills, which ultimately led to quicker prosecution.”

Is that kewl, or what?

As Rezendes points out, the system is a win-win one for all of the major publics concerned with the rainforests: residents, those licensed to responsibly harvest the trees, the government — and the planet.

Perhaps an ad hoc assemblage of discrete projects such as this one in the Amazon can achieve the vision of the “central nervous system for the planet” on the cheap.

Bravo, Cargo Tracck & Gemalto!