Recently I was thinking about the explosion of technology over the past few decades and how, among other things, it has brought us all closer. These huge advances in technology have touched practically every sector from medicine to transportation to computing to telecom and everything in between. It’s simply amazing to me how fast and far we’ve come from the days of typewriters, pay phones and even paper books. M2M has been a big part of this technology explosion, providing many of the automated transactions that happen in the background to improve our understanding of the world around us.
For instance, to get from point A to point B these days, all we need do is whip out our modern smart-phones, speak our destination and with the help of satellites, telecom and databases, the technology itself calculates the best route, avoiding traffic and recommending great eateries and sights along the way. Nowadays it’s even possible for you to assemble the highlights of your trip on the fly, in an easy to publish travel log for your friends and family to see. No cumbersome out-of-date paper maps required! Better yet, just think about how we used to access information before the internet via Wikipedia and the like? Virtually any topic, on any subject is instantly available in a multitude of formats for the layman and academic alike. Even the most recently published books just can’t compete in this age of instantaneous and abundant information. When you think about these examples, it quickly becomes apparent how much M2M processing is being done “behind-the -scenes” and all done without your knowledge or understanding. All we care about is the result of all that work, be it a route on a map or an article informing you about whatever subject you are interested in knowing more about at that moment.
Although we can all agree that, overall, technology is continuing to provide humanity simply amazing and profound benefits, unfortunately in other areas, the affects have not been as positively impactful. One area which has yet to truly benefit is in animal conservation. Ironically, the efficiencies which technology have brought us, has also allowed us, as a species to procreate at levels never before imagined. Recently published estimates hover around a global population of about 10 billion in just 35 years (1). The stresses on our fauna and flora to support the demands of this ever increasing population has undeniably lead to documented shrinkage in natural habitats worldwide and the number of animals which rely on these habitats. This is especially true for a number of endangered (or soon to be endangered) species including the African rhino, elephant and big cat, not to mention a large number of ocean dwelling creatures such as the blue and humpback whale. Some of the figures are quite sobering: In the time it has taken you to read this article up to this point, 1 African elephant has already been butchered for the ivory in its tusks (that’s about 100 elephants per day, 36,500 per year)!
It’s time for us to give back and we can through M2M. I never have underestimated the ability of humanity to create wonderful things or surmount seemingly impossible feats and I ask myself that if we can put a man on the moon (in the 1960’s no less) or build planes that can jet us around the planet in no time at all, surely we can find solution with the help of technology to solve some of the challenges in animal conservation. The biggest problem is apathy, greed and short term thinking but if we are able to direct our efforts through philanthropic channels (while taking advantage of state and federal tax breaks along the way), we can truly effect significant change and leave a legacy of natural preservation for future generations to enjoy. The alternative is to do nothing, until we’ve exhausted our environmental resources, allowing many species to simply go extinct all for short term gains. I can’t believe we would want history to remember our generation in this light.
So the question is how, and it’s a tough one to answer, with any specificity. This article certainly does not attempt to answer this question but serves instead to provide a little food for thought for the greater community of minds to consider. And the world of M2M, with its strong ties in telecommunications, data handling and processing, is certainly a good area to begin. The question is how best to pick a mix of compatible communication and data processing technologies that meet ongoing goals in a practical and cost effective way?
And what are these “goals”? This part is simple: To protect endangered and at-risk animal species from physical and psychological harm and preserve these same populations in a sustainable way as to promote biological diversity and prevent their extinction?
For example, today I can visit practically any pet store and buy a very reliable satellite pet tracker for Harko, my little Mini-Pincher/Husky mix (and don’t ask me how that happened). Harko simply put is an escape artist who has made it his pride and joy to compromise the fence around my house and tour the neighborhood. All good and fine, but unfortunately we’re a busy road full of cars so this amazing “M2A” (Machine-2-Animal) devices help me solve this problem (until I make my fence “Hark-proof”). It alerts me when Harko is outside the property boundary (“geofence”) and I can then precisely track his whereabouts (within the space of 30 seconds), and know exactly where he has been (his “route”). All I then need do is jump in my truck (with a bribe treat), head to where he is and, if I’m lucky, he’ll hop in for the ride home.
Now, I realize that, to build a system to protect African rhinos and elephants from poachers, we’re talking about the savannas of wild Africa and geographically gigantic areas, compared to my tiny neighborhood, but couldn’t we find a way of tracking the animal and the target (tusk or horn) using modern M2M devices and technologies? Might we use a mix of RF/cellular/satellite communication devices, programs, alerts and geofences that, working in concert, might dissuade this illegal butchering or maybe even catch these perpetrators in the act? Or maybe we can also look at things on a macro scale by considering the “supply chain” of illegal and contra banned materials, such as ivory. If we can significantly disrupt the supply of ivory (in this case) by RFID or satellite tracking and alerts of the shipping containers themselves we can put a huge dent in the black market trade of these contra banned materials. Fact: Did you know that each year the global supply of illegal African ivory is shipped in as few as 100 containers? Can you imagine how good you’d feel knowing you saved the life of even one more elephant, rhino, big cat (or any animal for that matter)? I know I would!
As I said, there’s definitely no easy answer. The challenges are huge and include corrupt officials, impoverished folks living in poor economies and techno-savvy poachers fueled by huge demand and high prices. Then there are the technical challenges of enormous geographical distances, little or no communication infrastructure, costs, political and organizational barriers let alone the risks associated with outfitting the animals themselves with these devices, just to name a few. As depressing and sobering as these challenges appear, there are heroes out there who even now are spearheading great philanthropic and humanitarian efforts, but who nevertheless, still desperately need help from all of us as global citizens but also in this case, from the brilliant folks that make up technology organizations of all kinds all around the world. These philanthropists include people like Sir Richard Branson (2), Mr. Yao Ming (3) and Mr. Jackie Chan (4) who have taken bold steps to curb poaching in Africa, or Brigitte Bardot (5), a devout animal activist, as well as the hard working and passionate folks who make up fine conservation organizations (6) worldwide. If we in the M2M and telecom industries can put our creativity and knowledge to work alongside these larger conservation efforts, there is no telling how great the collaboration of technology, science and goodwill could potentially be.