WWF's Conservation Innovation Awards

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Information is the ultimate power in conservation work, whether it is the fight against predators, protecting existing wildlife or the sustainable reestablishment of endangered species.

What if we can create a sensor network that covers whole areas and spans a wide array of data gathering, from land creatures and birds to the plants and trees, including the changing climate, temperature, rain and humidity ? A diverse range of data that is time and location synchronised to give unprecedented information of the total living environment.

Then let's take that capability and place it in a remote area, inaccessible to most humans, deep in the mountains or on a remote island. Let's include the capability to accumulate a years worth of data so that we can get a complete, comprehensive understanding of that environment, its changes and interaction with flora and fauna.

Or let's place this capability in or near an urban environment to gain greater definition of the impacts and relationship between human activity and nature.

Then let's network this system so that any other Bluetooth or WiFi system that gathers nearby data can link into this network. To make this data even more accessible we can tie this network into the Dronecounts drone data collection system so that we can make informtation transfer from remote areas easier.

This broad and deep data collection capability will rapidly empower researchers and conservationists with unprecedented tools with which to clarify discussions with interest groups, make decisions and ignite action.

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

Environmental relationships for both flora and fauna are often complex, with many subtle interactions. Many projects, limited by time and budgets, can struggle to include this multiplicity of factors.

Capturing the level of data that enables us to comprehend these interactions in detail requires considerable time and resources to achieve, with many practical challenges including remoteness of location and continuity of data collecting opportunities. It also entails considerable cost.

We want to speed up this process with better tools so we can attain a wider and deeper quantity and quality of accurate information.

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

X-Specs is a ground based sensor network, an array of “sensor pods” that are a data gathering platform. It allows gathering information for specific areas of interest, whilst simultaneously accumulating a data rich resource of the total environmental context.

Each “sensor pod” can be easily customised for the specific range of data collections required. They will always have a wide range of sensors relevant to that study so that the maximum data cross referencing is achievable to attain a comprehensive picture of the study.

These “sensor pods” are all weather, long endurance enclosures designed to withstand the harshest weather conditions and can operate 24/7.

There is specific connectivity built into each “sensor pod” that allows uploading of data in remote locations to a fixed wing or rotary drone. Therefore human visits to the “sensor pods” is limited , lowering the human “on site” requirement and associated costs, logistics and incursion into the environment of the study.

What makes your idea new and unique?

The X-Specs is a sensor network that creates an information web in nature. It is not like traditional ground based camera systems with single or dual functionality. It is like a sensor tree with a multi-layered data capture capability. The task is to accumulate as many essential elements of data, from a wide array of sources to create a comprehensive understanding of the total environment of flora and fauna.

It is specifically designed to enable data collection using the Dronecounts drone collection platform , which means easy collection from remote or sensitive environments.

It also networks with any other Bluetooth or wireless system in the vicinity as an information hub. This includes units such as trap systems, water monitoring systems or any other data collecting systems, further expanding the data collection capability. This includes data uploads from nearby Dronecounts animal and bird tags that enter, traverse the sensor network zone.


Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?

All researchers, conservationists and citizen science projects will be able to access unprecedented levels of data on flora and fauna. This information will ultimately empower faster decisions, based on rich information collections, for conservation and wildlife organisations, local and regional councils as well as government.

It is a very cost effective solution and therefore will be seen as a desirable method of information gathering for all those with vested interests.

What tasks or activities do you need investment for? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

To build the first prototype “sensor pods” of the sensor network

To integrate and trial the data upload with the Dronecounts system.

To integrate and trial the data hub networking with other devices such as remote traps and water sample systems.

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?


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edited on Oct 7, 2017 by Philip Solaris

Jennifer Mcguire Oct 9, 2017

What is the power source for the pods? Will you use solar and what kinds of batteries will be required?


Philip Solaris Oct 9, 2017

Hi Jennifer.

We have designed the system to allow maximum flexibility of power input options. We have experiemented using a low cost hybrid regulator system installed which allows multiple sources similtaneously, including solar, wind and even micro-hydro ( if the location makes this an option). This means that the relaiability of the power input are greatly increased and can be tailored to the location.

Storing that power is the tricky bit. We have watched some very promising new battery technologies emerging (we are primarily involved in robotics R&D so see a fair bit of this stuff) and see these coming into use in the near future, however, at the moment we need to have the most reliable system available. So, currently in most cases this will involve small deep cycle batteries. Set up properly these have a reliable life of at least 5 to 10 years. We have also tested using capacitors instead of batteries and this is a viable option in situations where power input has a relaible, consistent source.

It is important to note that most of the sensors in a standard sensor pod will require very little power but we do need to make accomodation for circumstances where a project may require specialist equipment in addition to the standard configuration. What we have done here is to make the pods as customisable as possible. Ultimately what this means is that some set-ups will require very small power draws whilst others may have double or even triple level requirements. It is therefore important that the pods can be upscaled or downscaled in their power setup according to need..


Jennifer Mcguire Oct 10, 2017

That is great that the system is so flexible to accommodate multiple power sources. Really interested to see testing with capacitors instead of batteries - great. I love the flexibility to vary the power setups that's very useful. Thanks for your reply. Good luck with your project!


View all replies (2)

Gerald Dickinson Oct 11, 2017

Hi Philip,
Yes information gathering will become more important in the future and especially how the information is stored and accessible by the wider community.. I have a project using thermal sensor to detect and identify pest animals. "Thermal Imaging to unmask whats in my backyard" and looking at potential options for long life power sources. A big issue is size of battery vs processing needs of sensor. What power sources are you seeing that would be ideal for applications in isolated areas and of low maintenance. Supercap technology is one option but capacity is limited.


Philip Solaris Oct 13, 2017

Hi Gerald, sorry I just saw this question. Yes, as described above, we have focused on allowing a multitude of power source inputs but, in order to offset power requirements, a key effort has been to source sensors with very low voltage requirements and we have recognised that there have been considerable efforts by manufacturers in this area.

In the end physics (and current storage technology) catches up to you and you must scale battery installation according to requirements. nevertheless there is very strong potential in this sector as power storage is an area where there are a range of promising technologies emerging. We expect many of these to roll out of the lab and into the field over the next couple of years as there is a huge amount of investment going on in this sector, primarily in support of the new non-combustion vehicle technologies.

Unfortunately there are still some sensors with requirements that have relatively high power requirements and we need do need to accommodate these. An important factor here is to make sure the sensor pods are highly customisable so that where, say thermal imaging is needed, we can provide power to that specific requirement but can scale back according to lower power requirements in pods being used in different contexts and using different sensor arrays. Flexibility and scale-ability are key.


Joanne Jackson Oct 12, 2017

Hey Philip. How do you propose getting around the limitations of WiFi and Bluetooth in terms of coverage and power consumption, to drive that type of network?


Gerald Dickinson Oct 12, 2017

Hi Joanne,
I just saw your comment on the technology to drive networks. Suggest using LoRa by Semtech. Have done some initial testing around urban/ forested areas and has very good capability for sending low data volume at low speeds over long distances. Even the power consumption is good. Ideal for remote sensor and sensor networks.
There is a good Introduction here
It includes field trials around wellington see step 16.

Note: it uses LoRaWAN as the network platform that connects to the local Telco. It is possible to create a private network with many nodes communicating with a single central base. It is this single base station located in someones home that can piggy back onto to the telco network via WiFi or other. I am working at creating a private network setup based on LoRaWAN for the thermal imaging project to id pests and pass this data on via LoRa technology.



Philip Solaris Oct 13, 2017

Thanks for this Gerald. It sounds like it would be great to meet up with you if we get enough support to make this happen. We already have a robust system but are always open to see if there are any other benefits or improvements by other systems. Certianinly using LoRaWAN would be a useful platform for set ups that are close enough to link into an urban framework. I must admit that the main focus of X-Specs are the remote and difficult to get to environments where standard telco capability is unreliable. Either way, from our point of view the core benefit in the X-Spec system is to enable a wide and deep data collection.

Please stay in touch if this project goes forward as your own research would be highly beneficial to this project. We are all paddling the waka for the same cause so all knowledge, especially experience based, is greatly appreciated.


View all replies (2)

Chris Muller Oct 14, 2017

Hi Philip, this looks like an interesting proposal, and a great opportunity to collaborate!
Do you have any prototype pods ready for testing? What types of sensor data do they collect and what frequency/s do they use for download?
My project (the Drone Ranger) has a multi-frequency radio receiver and wifi onboard, so as well as scanning for VHF transmitters on wildlife it could also pick up other signals such as data from sensor pods as it flies overhead. This would be useful for receiving the data from sensor pods deployed in hard-to-reach places!


Philip Solaris Oct 14, 2017

Thanks Chris, the Dronecounts system (last years WWF winner) already has the capability to upload a wide variety of data (including current and historical positional data) from ground based sensor systems over long ranges using both multirotor and fixed wing drones so I'm not sure that the Drone Ranger can offer any additional capability to this system. Dronecounts dropped traditioanl VHF tracking methodology due to operational / range and data diversity limitations.