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Restart Radio: Wildlife conservation and the role of open, repairable technology

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Ugo interviews Alasdair Davies, who has been working as a conservation technologist for over 10 years. Alasdair introduces us to his work on bringing affordable, customisable and repairable open hardware technology to people working on conservation projects.

When he started working in the field, Alasdair noticed it was hard to get access to devices. The options were: either spent a lot of money on out-of-the-box, proprietary equipment or take a chance with DIY options made in makerspaces. In response, after being involved with the maker movement and working for the London Zoo, he decided to launch his own project – the Arribada Initiative – which aims to deliver “open conservation technology for all”.

So how can technology help in conservation?

First, Alasdair tells us about his project with sea turtles, where he used GPS transmitters to tag and track the turtles’ routine – where they feed, where they nest, and hence where to protect them. These tags used to be extremely expensive to buy and repair, making it too costly to track populations. However, he has worked to reduce this problem, with each tag now costing a third of the original price. Also, Alasdair tells us about how they used cameras and Raspberry Pi technology on the tags to explore the bottom of the oceans. The images are quite impressive:

Next, we talk about the potential of technology for communities to influence local policymaking. For instance, people in marine communities can analyse the type of plastic they find impacting on sea life and where it might have come from. And they can prove how and where to take action for the conservation of species thanks to the more inexpensive tags.

Then, given our interest in repair, we talk about responsible design. When out in the field, there are many issues around repairing the devices used in conservation projects. For this reason, Alasdair has worked on devices which can be fixed easily and locally, making use of traditional tools that communities feel confident with. Also, we discuss the potential to reuse these devices through sharing tools with other conservation teams.

Finally, Alasdair tells us about other projects such as his work with king penguins in Antarctica for “Penguin Watch”, and with AudioMoth, an open source audio recorder used in the field. Arribada’s approach in supporting the team working on the AudioMoth is promising, as it acknowledges the importance of ensuring that open hardware projects get long-term software updates and maintenance.

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[Featured image by Unsplash user Randall Ruiz]

[Video source: Institute IRNAS, as published on the Raspberri Pi blog – Sea turtles and Arribada initiative]

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