By Walden Kirsch
Conservationists in South Africa are using computerized bracelets powered by Intel Galileo technology to help regenerate the critically endangered rhino population.
Thin and light he is not. An adult male black rhinoceros can tip the scale — if you can coax him onto one — some measuring nearly 1.5 tons, or 1,350 kilograms.
Not only that, black rhino are the fastest kind of rhino, reaching a top speed of 55 km per hour, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The WWF documents how “the Daily Mirror, in 1961, said that rhinos were doomed to disappear from the face of the earth due to man’s folly, greed, neglect.” Ever since, poachers have continued to push rhinos into the brink of extinction.
Today, people in southern Africa are trying to help save these critically endangered animals, including white rhinos, using Intel’s super-tiny Intel Quark system on a chip (SOC).
In 1981, only 10,000-15,000 black rhino remained, according to the WWF, which states that since 1980, the species has probably disappeared from Angola, Botswana, Chad, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan and Zambia.
When poachers kill rhinos, they typically hack off the rhinos’ prized horns, which often get ground into powder and sold for medicinal or aphrodisiac value. A single rhino horn can reportedly fetch as much as $3 million. The carcass is most often left to rot.
The WWF reports that after dipping to only 2,475 black rhinos recorded in 1993, conservation and anti-poaching efforts have helped the population grow to nearly 5,000.
In a unique pilot project now underway in South Africa, Intel is contributing a number of credit card-sized Intel Galileo motherboards — complete with processor, 3G communications and data storage — which are affixed to the big beasts.
The project is the outgrowth of a partnership between Intel South Africa and Dimension Data, a cloud services and data center company.
Organizing the work in the field is the Madikwe Conservation Project and i-Detect, a global software company that helps companies manage risk.
Attempting to affix technology to a rhino is risky. The rhino is not an easy customer. It hangs around in the baking hot African sun. It lounges in mud. It rolls in dirt. It stomps its massive 3-toed feet on stuff it doesn’t fancy. With a charge of 55 km per hour, it strikes a mighty blow.
The low-power Intel Galileo board is encased in an utterly rhino-proof, Kevlar-based ankle collar, which also features a durable solar panel to recharge the board’s battery.
What is the best way to attach a “wearable” to a rhino? Very carefully. And not until the huge animal is sedated.
Cellular provider Vodafone is contributing wireless connectivity. Each collared rhino’s geolocation and movement data is encrypted to ensure poachers cannot get to it, then sent to the cloud.
When the wild animals are sedated for their collar fitting, teams embed a tiny RFID chip in each animal’s horn. If the Galileo board detects a break in proximity between ankle and horn, anti-poaching teams can be alerted with helicopters, drones and ground-based vehicles to apprehend the poachers.
While the current pilot is focused on five animals, the technology is working and the cost is proving to be modest and appealing enough to expand to more rhinos.
The project’s next phase will monitor each rhino’s vital stats, such as heart rate. In this way, anti-poaching teams will be able to detect a stressed rhino and swoop in on criminal poachers before they do the deed.
“This incredible creature is in real threat of extinction if we cannot help stop the poaching.” said Gordon Graylish, Intel’s EMEA-based sales and marketing VP who recently checked out the rhino-saving project.
“The ease with which our local team could take our technology and apply it to a real world issue in a novel way was amazing. It also points to the way to even more work like this for us in the future,” he said.
“At Intel, we constantly strive to enable new possibilities, not just for the human race, but for all species of flora and fauna,” said Intel South Africa Country Manager Videsha Proothveerajh. “This project helps us holistically care for our planet.” Photos and video.