Blue chip technology

 —  14/09/2009

Welcome back.

Technology these days.. It’s all about Twitter right? or blogging,  High Definintion, Bluetooth.. or some sort of fandangle GPS system that seems to do all the work for us. What happened to the traditional electronics? You know – circuits, soldering irons and LEDs.. All that stuff..

Blue chip technology

circuits, soldering irons and LEDs.. All that stuff..

Well at DOC, we’re pretty good at retaining these blue chip skills. Electronics help us out with a lot of aspects of our work. Most notably: All sorts of monitoring. We track a number of our endangered species with radio transmitters; some birds have microchips inside them; other stuff includes kakapo feeders – Smart hopppers – that will only let a particular bird grab a feed, dependant upon communications to the feeder from the electronics on the birds back.

We do a lot of work on offshore (and mainland) islands. The offshore islands are a bit of a double-edged sword for us; they’re very effective for pest control, as they have a much higher chance of staying pest free. The other edge of this blade is that they’re often very remote and hard to get to.

Enter Secretary Island.

Secretary Island

Secretary Island

Secretary Island is in Fiordland National Park, and is on our hitlist for having non-native mammals eradicated from its boundaries (which luckily, consist of water). The main problem we face on Secretary is the population of deer that reside there – we’re lucky that there’s no possums or rats there, though there are a number of stoats – It’s more than a hassle for local rangers to head over there every day to see if we’ve managed to captured any of these pesky deer overnight, and it costs us unneccessary taxpayer dollars to do this on an uninformed basis.

On the island are fenced pens or cages. When a stray deer has wandered into one of these pens, the gate on it will automatically shut behind it. The next part, is how do we know that this pen is now occupied, and how can we guarantee a worthwhile mission to Secretary?

These gates feature a rare after-market customisation: Our electronics experts have developed a complicated (certainly for me) array of solder and circuits, self powered and neatly packaged into small weather-proof boxes. What these devices do, is notify the local area office via email that there is a deer contained in a pen on Secretary Island, waiting patiently – or otherwise – for removal.

This sort of technology is continually helping us do more work, with less money. A great example of this is the “Ear in the air”– a recent joint-venture between DOCs Research and Development group, private comany Wildtech NZ, and our West Coast Conservancy – This “Ear in the air” is being used to monitor Kiwi from an airplane. The transmitters fitted on the kiwi don’t just tell the scientist in the plane where the kiwi are in the bush, but are clever enough to tell us which kiwi is doing what, whether it’s incubating eggs, if their chicks have hatched, or if it’s just milling about. Before this technology, this same work that now takes two hours, would generally take 45 days of a ranger monitoring in dense, rough terrain. So with a bit of solder and circuitry, and a lot of deep thinking, 45 days of hard work becomes 2 hours of work from a plane.. Awesome.

Rangers and kiwi tracking dog in the bush.

Rangers and dog tracking kiwi in the bush.

To me, this stuff is amazing. What do you guys reckon? Have you got any ideas? Want to know any more? (there is more) then please feel free to get e-involved on the comments !

3 responses to Blue chip technology


    I would also urge you (and other interested readers) to keep your eyes and ears peeled for some news later this week, concerning one of your bullet points Benjamin, almost to the letter. Some exciting stuff!


    Hi Benjamin,

    Thankyou for your response, you’ve got some awesome ideas! We’re certainly thinking along the same lines to some degree as you are, and I’m sure someone will be very keen to have a chat. I’ll pass on your email to the specialists, and we’ll see what happens.

    Thanks a lot for reading, and your interest is more than valued. (and I for one don’t think your ideas are that crazy!)


    Benjamin Franzmayr 14/09/2009 at 4:47 pm


    I think this sort of stuff is great and that electronics could be used much more in the future to improve things like pest control and monitoring. I think we should develop what I call “Smart Traps” – pest traps or poison dispensers that can do one or more of various things like:
    – Signal back to base when the trap has caught something to help people figure out when is a good time to go around and manually reset a line of traps.
    – More simply they could just record the time that it happened to see how quickly traps are sprung after they have been set, to provide information.
    – kill traps that use a motor to eject the animal and re-set themselves
    – poison dispensers that dispense a new pellet of poison after the current one has been taken (or has gotten too old) or opens a new container of bait (eg for wasps) every few days so that the baits are fresh.
    – a series of monitoring stations could tag pest animals and monitor their movements. Tags could be electronic RFID, radio tags or visual paint, stickers that are glued or painted onto the animal as it is passing through a tracking tunnel.
    – traps might trap mice and use them as bait for stoats?
    – one poison dispenser could dispense different poisons at different times of the year to target different animals.
    – traps or poison dispensers could be dropped from aircraft and set themselves up (like very simple lunar landers) (OK, some of my ideas are a bit crazier than others 🙂

    All of these things will add cost but may save money in reduced human work hours, reduced helicopter trips etc and may increase the effectiveness of the pest control. Much of this sort of thing could be achieved at a relatively low cost using microcontrollers and cheap scavenged parts for prototypes anyway (old cellphones for long range communications, windscreen wiper motors to reset traps, digital cameras for monitoring etc).

    I’d be interested in helping with this if you’d like.