The last decade has witnessed tremendous advances in technology. Electronics and manufacturing have reduced prices to the point that many devices, whose use was historically limited to businesses or large institutions, are now available at a consumer and hobbyist level. Ecology research has benefited from this hardware revolution already to some extent (e.g. camera traps are cheaper than ever and miniature radio transmitters have been fitted to insects), but there is still a massive opportunity gap. Reaping the full benefits of this hardware revolution has the potential to transform expensive or anecdotal data collection into an affordable and powerful source of ecological data. From drones to tiny radiotransmitters, technology could soon be changing the way we sample our environment!
The biggest opportunity gap is in the possibility to affordably design and manufacture project-specific devices, or customise off-the-shelf commercial products to suit specific needs, in order to facilitate basic and applied ecological research, as well as conservation in practice. The possibilities are endless! Some examples include:
- remotely-controlled, pre-programmed or autonomous vehicles (land, water or aerial unmanned vehicles) for collecting samples, patrolling or tracking individuals, or access and monitoring in remote areas;
- data logging from networks of sensors, either static (e.g. environmental measurements like CO2 concentration or water flow) or dynamic (e.g. located on animals, to study social interactions within a group);
- adding non-standard functionalities or intelligent behaviour to camera traps or arrays of microphones by customising off-the-shelf devices;
- cheap measuring devices and data-loggers to facilitate large-scale citizen science;
- prototyping and manufacturing of field equipment using 3-D printers…
With a background in Engineering and Statistics, I am interested in exploring how emerging technologies can be integrated with good survey design and sound statistical analysis to improve the way we survey the natural world and open new possibilities. The last years have already witnessed some creative applications being published. I will be blogging about interesting applications of technology to enhance ecological research as I read about them, particularly when these applications have been developed specifically for ecology.