Chips are running on the Internet of Things (IoT) technology

Microchips to protect trees from smugglers

Foresters and farmers in Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have decided to go high-tech to protect the precious flora from smugglers and timber mafia. Scientists from the Bengaluru-based Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST) have helped insert microchips in precious trees of the region including sandalwood, red sanders, teak and mahogany to alert the owners about the trees being stolen or uprooted due to bad weather.

Buoyed by the success and positive feedback from the pilot study on the IWST campus in Malleswaram and an agroforestry farm near Nelamangala, the scientists are making preparations to insert microchips in forests and farmlands of Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Speaking to Deccan Herald Surendra Kumar, director of IWST acknowledged the preparations and explained that very soon, the trees in these states will be inserted with the sensor-type microchips to send alerts about smugglers and thieves.

IWST, last year, in association with Hitachi India, had developed chip-based sensors and related software for recording signals. The microchips were inserted into trees especially the 50 sandalwood trees on the campus on an experimental basis. Subsequently, the same was tested at a farm near Nelamangala on a pilot basis for over six months with slight modifications.

“The results were motivating and helped us redesign the chips by reducing their size. While initially it was only planned to get alerts about tree cutting, later we coded the sensors to send signals about uprooting as well. Besides, we have also increased the life of the battery from the current eight months to 13-14 months,” explained a senior scientist working on the project.

The improvised chips will be inserted into sandalwood trees in Marayur range in Idukki forest division of neighbouring Kerala. “Marayur is one of the last bastions of natural sandalwood trees along with other species. It is most important for us to retain the tree species. Similarly, we have also demonstrated the chips in Honnavar and Yellapur divisions of Canara circle in Karnataka. The CCF has accepted the proposal and we are awaiting further communication for installation,” revealed another scientist.

Similarly, places on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border like Chikkaballapur, Kolar, Kadapa and Kurnool have the highest density of red sanders (Pterocarpus santalinus) commonly known as ‘Raktachandana’ and are often targeted by international smugglers. “The chips will be inserted on these trees in forests and farms in Andhra Pradesh for effective monitoring,” he clarified.

The camouflaged bark-coloured chips running on the Internet of Things (IoT) technology are just 1.5 inches in size and can easily be inserted into trees. “The chips pick up vibrations triggered by axes and saws. The accelerometer and a radio frequency emitter in the chips send signals to the server and owner of the forest patch or planter. Security guards will also get an alert on their mobiles. The chips are water and dust resistant and adapt to various agro-climatic conditions,” the scientist clarified. The sensors are capable of distinguishing between the vibrations triggered by axe or saw cut or natural forces like wind and rain.

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Microchips to protect trees from smugglers

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