Hackaday Prize Entry: There’s An Elephant In The Room

Elephants and people don’t mix as well as you’d hope. Human-elephant conflict causes deaths of both pachyderms and man alike. Elephants raid crops. Elephants are killed by trains. Obviously, where elephants are is useful knowledge. This is the problem [Neil] is solving for his entry into the Hackaday Prize. His project detects elephants, whether they’re on a railroad, in a field gorging on crops, or… in the room.

[Neil]’s goal is simple – he’s building a distributed elephant detection system that can be deployed at railway crossings, between forests and farmland, and along established elephant trails. This gives [Neil] exactly two problems: detecting elephants, and communicating that information to humans.

To detect elephants, [Neil] is relying on a webcam and Raspberry Pi 3 running OpenCV vision processing. He’ll either be comparing histograms, for faster and less resource intensive image processing, or feature matching. Each detector is equipped with a PIR sensor, so at the very least the Pi won’t be looking for elephants all the time.

Notifying humans of the existence of elephants is the next step of the project, and one that might even be harder than finding the elephants in the first place. [Neil] settled on using ZigBees on each Pi to talk to at least one base station. This base station then sends a message to the local human population over a much longer-range radio link. Networking a bunch of Pis in the middle of the African savanna is a hard problem, but by separating the communication aspect of this project into two radio links, [Neil] has a fairly robust solution.

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12 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: There’s An Elephant In The Room

    1. More then say…a drone which relays this info ONLY to poachers?
      If poaching would be a problem, the same data can be used for rangers to keep an eye on the elephants while staying far enough to not be easily noticeable.

  1. Very noble project and should be done. The web cam can also be used by railroad engineers too to see what may be laying on the track ahead of them. Be it car, truck, bus, or even elephant. BUT one thing is tantamount: please encrypt the feed! Elephant poachers are a very bad epidemic in Africa. They are resourceful and too creative. Once they learn about the RF feed, they will try and figure out how to exploit it to find elephants. If you make it directional with Yagi-Uda antennas and encrypt the feed so casual RF monitors can’t figure out what information is being transmitted. Also have a “still-alive” routine feed to tell HQ that station is still alive. The constant still-alive feeds will not indicate the presence of elephants at any given station. IOW – if your rig ONLY transmits when elephants are present then a poacher only needs to RF triangulate that station and go find out if elephants are presently there. A routine periodic still-alive transmission will be a waste of time for poachers to respond too constantly. Also make all signals have the same length so no reverse analysis of the signal can be determined between still-alive and elephant-detection. The still-alive also would transmit battery power level. Use solar-cells to keep batteries topped up.

    REMEMBER the station needs to be disguised not just because of sneaky poachers and local thieves looking to “fence” the parts at the local black-market dude, but elephants themselves are too curious about new things in their environment. They have a high reach too and may tear the rig down and smash it just to see what it is. They are very smart. So It may need to be high up and disguised like how they disguise cell phone towers here in USA. However, the solar cell will be a dead-giveaway that it is something special. There are ways to disguise solar cells too. Remember to add a chassis cooling scenario as direct African sunlight can be brutal on remote site electronics.

    1. There are ways to detect elephants up to 2KM away by their infrasonic noises they make. Also you can repel them from areas with sound effects of dangerous big cats of the region and African Honey Bees. Also CAPSACIN is a flavor and smell they simply detest (i.e. pepper spray?)! Spread it around and they wont come any where near your crops. Here is a detailed report on all that from BBC: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141204-five-ways-to-scare-off-elephants

        1. Yes using the “gunshot detector” software from SST, Inc that was used in Iraq & Afghanistan to pinpoint insurgent shooters in a second and now used by L.E.O. in US to spot criminal gun shooters, one could design an Elephant finder. However, gun shots are a much higher frequency than Elephant or Whale (e.g. Humpbacks) infrasonics. You would need a huge parabolic reflector (possibly 3 or more) in a circle. Like 3 old DishNet parabolas (on tripods). Then you need 3 audio amplifiers that bandpass infrasonic sound waves to an Arduino or Raspberry Pi ADC. Then through the magic of Fourier Transform maths you can compute the phase angle toward the creature. If you have a remotely connected exact slave unit then triangulation is instantaneous or in real time.


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