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Capturing the wild: Smart camera records Scotland’s unseen wildlife

Buzzard in mid-flight, image captured by WiSE
"The WiSE platform has the potential to transform the way in which environmental and wildlife data is retrieved from remote sites by scientists and land managers. This could help us monitor climate change and understand its impact on biodiversity

Monitoring of Scotland’s wildlife in some of the most remote and inaccessible parts of the country has been transformed thanks to a new ‘smart camera’ developed by experts at the James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen.

The solar powered device can work in areas with no power infrastructure or internet coverage, can be remotely operated, and sends images and video to a central database via satellite.

The WiSE (Wireless Internet Sensing Environment) platform presents fundamentally new ways to gather data about wildlife and their environment. The initiative has seen cameras installed in the Cairngorms that have captured images of eagles, deer movement, as well as other wildlife activity.

Dr Scott Newey, a James Hutton Institute associated researcher at the RCUK dot.rural Digital Economy Hub, said: “Integration of data from multiple sources significantly improves understanding of the natural world.

“The WiSE platform has the potential to transform the way in which environmental and wildlife data is retrieved from remote sites by scientists and land managers. The data it records could, in the future, help monitor climate change, help us understand the impact on biodiversity, to name just a few aspects.”

Professor Gorry Fairhurst of the University of Aberdeen’s School of Engineering commented: “This kind of project simply wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. It is only through the emergence of extremely low cost and small computers (such as the Raspberry Pi) that we can put these cameras up into remote places such as the Cairngorms.

“The technology means we are able to reprogram the cameras remotely, so there’s no need to go climbing up the mountains to retrieve it. By changing the algorithm, we can program the camera to search for different kinds of activity, or animals.”

The biggest advantage of WiSE over existing technologies such as webcams, is that rather than record hours of footage when nothing is happening, the camera’s multiple sensors combine so it ‘knows’ when something of interest is actually happening.

“The flexibility inherent in WiSE allows sensor inputs to be combined to more reliably detect events of interest, or to post-process data ensuring that potentially important events are highlighted for later analysis,” added Professor Fairhurst.

“This not only increases the quality of the imagery, but has the potential to offer a substantial reduction in the need for later analysis by human observers. This platform is now evolving to support a range of new digital techniques and new applications.”

Live video streaming from the remote site over satellite Internet and the design of an open source camera trap were demonstrated at Digital Conservation conference held at University of Aberdeen from 21-23 May 2014. 

Notes to editors

WiSE is part of the dot.rural RCUK Digital Economy Research Hub, funded by Research Councils UK. For more information, visit the project website.

dot.rural is the RCUK Digital Economy Hub, based at the University of Aberdeen, focusing on the rural digital economy. Rural areas have specific characteristics that create challenges around issues such as quality of life and wealth creation. These include: small, often dispersed populations; narrow and uneven channels of information flow; rapid change in population structures and economic activity bases; and restricted access to digital infrastructure. We believe that rural areas of the UK can, through the user-led application of digital technology, be more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Our aim is to harness the Hub's expertise with a range of partners to realise this ambition. Our activities are organised around nine challenges: Digital Society, Enterprise & Culture, Healthcare, Intelligent Information Infrastructures, Intelligent Mobility, Internet Engineering, Natural Language Generation & Affective Communication, Natural Resource Conservation and Social Media . You can visit the dot.rural website for more information, email dotruralsecretary@abdn.ac.uk  or phone +44 (0) 1224 274065.

This research is supported by the RCUK Digital Economy programme to the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub, award reference: EP/G066051/1.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.