Archive for July, 2007

intruder alert: surveillance sensors to prevent poaching

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

From The Economist, sensors that detect poachers:

Nouabale-Ndoki’s [Congo] hard-pressed rangers are, however, about to get some high-tech help in the form of TrailGuard, a system of small and easily hidden electronic detection and communication devices. They will soon begin burying radio-transmitting metal detectors alongside elephant trails leading into the park. Authorised hikers through the park will be given transponders that tell the detectors who they are, as with the “identification friend-or-foe” systems on military aircraft. But when poachers carrying rifles or machetes traipse by a detector, it will send a radio signal to a treetop antenna. Seconds later the rangers will receive the intruder’s co-ordinates on their satellite phones. They will then be able to respond precisely, rather than slogging around on fruitless and demoralising patrols on the off-chance of catching a poacher up to no good.

A nonprofit, affiliated with the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry in Syracuse, Wildland Security, has created these sensors to aid countries and areas that have the will to save wildlife but not necessarily the person power.

Hmm, surveillance technology in the service of conservation?

honey, it’s your ficus on the phone

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Are you taking care of your plants? If not they’ll call you and tell you. Such is the project of Botanicalls. Not only will they call you and tell you about their light and soil conditions but you can call them back and ask about their status.

via Treehugger,

The system currently involves a soil moisture sensor, hardware and software to interpret that data, and a call to a lounge phone; phase [two] will include a bunch of new features including a light sensor, display, ambient sensors, output to the web and email, as well as calls to your personal cell phone (not just the one connected to the plant).

Of course, the plants could talk to the watering hose directly but that would loosen the connection between nature and human, so I applaud the goals of the company to:

  1. Keep the plants alive by translating the communication protocols of the plants (leaf habit, color of foliage, droop, etc) to more common human communication protocols (email, voice phone calls, digital visualizations, etc).
  2. Make a connection between people and plants. Explore/enhance/create/visualize people’s emotional connection to plants, the ways plants help humans, how caring for a shared resource can create sense of community, how natural life is a valuable counterpoint to our technical environment.

In phase three, I’d like to see the plants talking to each other, coupled with some AI software to see if any behaviours emerge (“Hey, I see you like your fancy orchids better than me, your ficus. What gives?” or “We’re using craigslist to scrape the phone numbers of some more considerate plant owners so we can call them!”). There’s all sorts of ways that plants could conspire against their owners.

In the meantime, listen to to Scotch Moss complain that it hasn’t received enough water.

the rise of the geoweb: user as consumer and producer of map content

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

This NYTimes article has the phenomenon exactly right, as to the potential to the user (actual and assumed power over the map), the opportunities for the geoweb vendor (billions in advertising dollars) and the challenge to the cartographer and GISer (whence the role of the expert).

[M]illions of people are trying their hand at cartography, drawing on digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound and videos.

In the process, they are reshaping the world of mapmaking and collectively creating a new kind of atlas that is likely to be both richer and messier than any other.

The article has some nice links to geolocations on Google Earth (e.g., biodiesel stations in New England). You should visit the URLs and save them before they disappear behind the firewall.

More on this, as soon as I finish reading Andrew Keen.

chip implants to protect public health

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

One of the more ominous intersections of computers and environment, in this case public health:

Lawmakers in Indonesia’s Papua are mulling the selective use of chip implants in HIV carriers to monitor their behaviour in a bid to keep them from infecting others, a doctor said Tuesday.

forget virtual pets; how about virtual wildlife?

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

okay, so this is crazy: Mom’s taking care of her children’s virtual pets while the children are away at camp (it’s an “only in NY” kind of story). But it got me thinking: why couldn’t we design virtual megafauna or virtual habitats that kids must take care of?

We have enough knowledge of simulating habitats and of gaming that we can easily create the environments/animals as well as the interactions (btw, see the latest Communications of the ACM on creating a science of gaming). Similar to Sim City but for habitats and appropriate to the learning ability of children. The trick is to make it as attractive as Webkinz. Webkinz is an Internet/MMORPG tie-in to purchased stuffed animals. The MMORPG resembles the Sims; it has all the consumerism and the interactions although it’s touted as kid-safe. You can buy things for your pet’s home through kids cash, which is earned through playing games and taking quizzes (in a game show format). In our newly developed WebHab (or WebWildlife), instead of buying furniture, perhaps our players could buy padding for a nest, increase (buy?) the number of species, obtain water for the habitat, and so on. Kids could take Dora The Explorer type quizzes to earn HabCash to fund their virtual conservation efforts.

Our new simulation thus serves several purposes:

  • get kids concerned about the environment and nature from an early age.
  • exploit consumerism for a conservation cause (if WWF can sell stuffed pandas then this could have all sorts of tie-ins, from buying a stuffed animal to sponsoring an animal in the wild).
  • surreptitiously teach children science.

Now all we need are some conservation minded techies…

sundance goes green

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Posted by Christopher Barry, Senior Vice President, Digital Media and Business Strategy, Sundance Channel

Here at the Sundance Channel, we recently launched a weekly programming block dedicated to the environment, called THE GREEN.

As part of this online environment, Google Maps for Enterprise technology offered us a great platform for developing the Eco-mmunity Map, an exciting interactive tool that supports our television shows and creates a community of users around eco issues. The Eco-mmunity Map allows you to list and search for green individuals, businesses, special attractions, and action points anywhere in the world through a customized site. The Google Maps technology makes it simple to share information about environmental causes and events in your community. You can input and search for green information based on four key category “markers” — Individuals, Businesses, Green Action Points, and Green Attractions and Events. By posting markers with detailed descriptions, contact information, related web links, comments, ratings, and photos, you can share local knowledge and suggestions with others from around the world. So come on over to and start adding your content today.

Ultimately, our hope is that visitors to the Eco-mmunity Map will have the opportunity to share their knowledge and connect with others in the virtual green movement. We’re grateful to the Google Maps for Enterprise team that helped make this online world possible.

Even the advertisements are for green products.

geoweb and communicating climate change

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

More heartening news that the geoweb (GIS, digital earths) could aid in communicating climate change:

In the article, Satellite Images Bridge Understanding Gap between Climate Change and Individuals, Kevin Corbley reports on a meeting between remote sensing vendors and Google Earth to promote the idea that geoweb could connect people to what was happening at the Earth’s poles, where climate change is particularly severe.

Some interesting examples in the article:

An application that allows users to view multiple layers of geospatial data linked to locations on Google Earth images: Earth SLOT (Earth Science, Logistics, and Outreach Terrainbases)

SPOT Imagery’s initiative to get climate change related imagery to the public: Planet-Action

There is some irony in the article in a quote from a SPOT Imagery representative:

SPOT’s de Chassy pointed out that while Earth observation satellites have been extremely successful at identifying environmental change, the link with everyday citizens has often been difficult to establish because imagery historically has been too expensive to obtain and too difficult to analyze for anyone but a trained scientist.

Yes, and who was setting the high prices for the images?

Update: Sierra Club British Columbia uses Google Earth to show the impact of sea level rise on the lower mainland of BC.

Step by step instructions on using Google Earth to show sea level rise in the coastal community of one’s choice.