Pix via smartpark.org

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A Dutch company, Smart Parks, has installed its fourth and largest African smart park to date in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park in October 2018.

In just two weeks, the 548km2 size national park was equipped with gateways and sensors that gather information to help improve park management and protection. The construction of the network in the Liwonde National Park was implemented alongside a team from African Parks, a conservation NGO that manages the park on behalf of the Malawian government. The group was trained by Smart Parks for the construction of the site.

The Liwonde smart park was equipped with smart sensor technology which helps track the animals’ activity, but also the rangers as well. It also helps the park management monitor the equipment from a greater distance in real time.

The installation in Liwonde National park included improved wireless IP backhaul setup, real-time monitoring and power management or all active equipment, including a solar power setup. The organization also introduced a new vehicle tracker that has an external GPS and LoRaWAN antenna so that it can be mounted on vehicles. Liwonde is the second site to be outfitted with a LoRa (long range) network – the first was Akagera National Park in Rwanda.

The team also added Bluetooth programming, a smartphone app as well as new wearable trackers based on geolocation for the rangers. The team also added a ground frame solar station which they say will make maintenance easier and increase deployment speed.

Tim van Dam, Co-Founder, Smart Parks says that Liwonde deployment continues to help African Parks in their management and protection of these natural areas.

“One way of addressing the problem of poaching for wildlife reserves effectively is creating more situational awareness for park management, and one of the ways to create this is with wildlife tracking,” said van Dam. “In addition to tracking for traditional research and conservation purposes, animal security has always been an issue that necessitates remote monitoring of different kinds of wildlife.”

“To protect endangered animals, one needs to know their location. Larger mammals such as elephants and rhinoceros are at risk of poaching, so we set out to help large African game parks mitigate this risk and effectively conserve endangered wildlife,” adds van Dam.

In 2017, Smart Parks was asked by the Frankfurt Zoological Society to build a network for rhino protection in the Serengeti where the group was adding sensors into the rhino’s horns so they could be tracked and monitored. In the horn.

“These are very well-known and established conservation organisationsembracing the possibilities of the LoRAtechnology,” adds van Dam. “The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) also jumped on board when they chose us as winners of the Wildlife Tech Challenge, which gave us the opportunity to use our solution for fence protection in India where they have massive issues with elephants breaking through.”

Van Dam says that in addition to the importance of direct protection of the wildlife, park management has the responsibility of also operating and maintaining the infrastructure of these parks.

“Road, gates, graders, cars, water and fuel tanks, buildings and other important assets need to be in top condition all the time. In large and remote areas managing these assets is challenging,” said van Dam. “Having real-time information about the position and condition of these assets may improve operational planning and capacity management of staff resources.”

Va Dam adds this also applies to human safety as well.

“If tourists visiting the park find themselves in trouble outside of the cell-phone coverage of the park, having real-time information about the location of park visitors will improve overall park safety,” adds van Dam.

Most of the technology solutions that monitor park areas and track wildlife are traditionally based on satellite technology (GPS) which can lead to high usage costs.

“These usage costs are because of the expensive, heavy tracking devices which also use a lot of power,” said van Dam. “Another limitation of most monitoring systems currently in place is that there isn’t any real-time monitoring and this means that the data is historical and can sometimes be several weeks old. This makes the systems expensive and unreliable.”

Smart Parks takes a different approach by building a completely private network infrastructure using LoRa Gateways to cover the entire area, tracking up to thousands of animals, vehicles and other assets, at a low cost of around $100-200 USD per tracker and $3,000-4,000 per solar gateway, which in some cases reaches up to 100 kilometers.

“The approach we use generates real-time data and is more sustainable and advanced than many other GPS monitoring systems in place,” said van Dam. “Unlike the easily interceptable radio frequencies many other tracking systems use, the Smart Park’s signals are sent on a closed network across multiple frequencies, making the network difficult to access for outsiders such as poachers.”

“What makes us unique is that we create the feasibility study, physically build the network (towers, gateways, placing sensors) and integrate all the collecting information into our self-built app, making us the only company that provides the complete solution,” added van Dam. “Smart Parks can be deployed anywhere, is scalable (can include up to 100,000 sensors) and all devices we use are designed to endure harsh weather conditions.”

The installation cost of the smart parks is around $150,000 to 300,000 USD depending on the lay of the land and the number of sensors needed.

Jennifer Kite-Powell is a writer who covers innovation in technology and science as it intersects with industry, culture, health, environment and mobility. You can follow her on Twitter @jennalee.

This article first appeared in Forbes

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