How sensors can help protect trees

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By Sanjay Gupta

Institute of Wood Science and Technology is running a pilot project involving an IoT solution that uses sensors on the trees to monitor and analyse their well-being.

On 11 November, six armed men felled and took away two sandalwood trees from the Malleswaram, Bengaluru residence of the late C.V. Raman. Two security guards were posted there, but they could only watch helplessly as the men overpowered them and made away with the wooden logs (bit.ly/2CVdTrX). This is no isolated incident; illegal chopping and theft of the expensive, scented wood has been a constant headache in Karnataka and the neighbouring states where the trees are cultivated (bit.ly/2BrTwlH).

If a pilot project involving an internet of things (IoT) solution that uses sensors on the trees to monitor and analyse their well-being is anything to go by, tracking down the thieves and recovering the stolen wood from them would become easier in the future.

The pilot is being run by Bengaluru-based Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST), which falls under the central government’s ministry of environment, forest and climate change in association with Hitachi India Pvt. Ltd.

“Nearly 50 trees on IWST premises have been fitted with sensors and the alerts generated from the data captured can be sent to the mobiles or smartphones of the guards and higher-level officers,” says Surendra Kumar, director, IWST. He adds that the IoT solution would make it possible to protect the trees more cost-effectively, as fewer guards would now be needed to do the rounds.

While the current project is aligned to Hitachi’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative that the company dubs ‘social innovation’, according to Gnaneshwar Kambali, general manager, digital solutions and services group at Hitachi India, it is being extended to commercial applications given “the wide scope and interest” it is generating.

For one, IWST is in conversation with forest authorities in Shimla to help them deploy similar technology for protecting oak trees in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh.

Kambali says that the IoT solution at IWST has been “conceived and designed by Hitachi engineers” and implemented by the company’s partner firm, Atto Communications Pvt Ltd (Attocom).

The sensors, according to Kambali, are assembled as well as tested in India by Attocom from imported components. Then they are embedded into the tree stems with some sort of camouflage to avoid easy detection. All this is done under the supervision of Hitachi, he says. “Among the tests performed on the sensors are those for water-resistance, shock absorption, drop-testing, etc., as the sensors need to be rugged enough for outdoor deployment,” he says.

Attocom and Hitachi have done a few iterations of the solution to bring it to their expected price/performance level. “We have had a couple of refinements in the sensor technology, which is currently in its third-generation. We have nearly met our expectations, but we will continue to refine it to another couple of generations—to reduce the size of the sensor as well as the battery. Naturally charging solar batteries are also being explored for use with the sensors,” reveals Kambali.

Currently, for the small size of deployment, a sensor costs anywhere from Rs1,000 to Rs1,500, though Hitachi expects to bring it further down to about Rs500—something that will make it even more economically viable and attractive to a larger community of sandalwood farmers and other tree growers. Besides IoT, Hitachi also considered a drone-based solution and one that used video cameras with ‘night vision’, but the IoT solution proved to be “more cost-effective and easy to use” in the long run. “It did not have the drawbacks that other solutions had,” says Kambali.

How the solution works

Talking about how the solution functions, Kambali says that the data captured from the sensors is collected and analysed at back-end servers, which are hosted at the cloud data centre of Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS). The sensor is calibrated in such a way that false alarms such as “those generated by a gusty wind or other natural phenomena occurring in forest land” are eliminated and alerts are raised only if there are symptoms such as the peculiar “vibration of the chopping machine” or the “felling of a tree” are signalled. “The sensor uses two or three consecutive parameters to make sure the correct event is captured rather than a false alarm. Some sounds, such as the hum or buzz of an electric saw mostly used by robbers, is used as a ‘signature event’ that helps detect the felling of a tree,” he explains.

IWST is in conversation with forest authorities in Shimla to help them deploy similar technology for protecting oak trees in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh.

The solution is built using Hitachi Anomaly Detection to Prediction and Prescription (HAD2P) technology, which, according to Kambali, is the core software solution that also includes an analytical engine. The technology, he says, can be adapted for use in assessing the damage and generating preventive or civic alerts for natural calamities such as floods. According to him, the municipal corporation in Bengaluru is understood to be categorizing fall-prone trees into various zones and he believes that an IoT solution can possibly help them save avoidable damage to property and public life and in better coordination with other civic agencies.

IIoT: the challenges

The IoT solutions used by different industries—including the one being used by IWST—are often referred to as Industrial IoT (IIoT), to differentiate them from consumer IoT solutions (typically used in consumer devices such as air-conditioners, toasters, refrigerators and the like). As per projections by MarketsandMarkets Research Pvt Ltd, the worldwide IIoT market was valued at $113.71 billion in 2015 and is estimated to reach $195.47 billion by 2022.

While pilots and experiments are going on in IIoT, experts say that most companies are lagging behind in their readiness to adopt the technology. In an 18 April 2017 announcement of a global IIoT study, titled The impact of connectedness on competitiveness, done by Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network, a US-based professional networking organization, it was noted that “IIoT technologies are about to play a significant role in business and industrial performance” (prn.to/2kGIOjm). And yet, Dave Murray, head of thought leadership for the BPI Network, said, “Nevertheless, less than 2% of large companies say they have a clear vision for how to move forward or have large-scale implementations underway. That dichotomy suggests we are experiencing the lull before the storm of IIoT transformation. This is an opportunity for real competitive differentiation and advancement.”

In India, factors such as the growing adoption of cloud in IoT services and shifting focus over IIoT, the rising market of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the increasing trend of wearable technology applications are driving IoT adoption, according to Satendra Kumar, principal consultant at BIS Research.

But he says that user companies in India face multiple challenges, including the pricing of IoT devices, lack of adequate infrastructure to tackle data security and a shortfall of trained human capital. Lack of reliable connectivity, especially in rural areas, can also act as a dampener.

Source: Livemint

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