Urby: reinforcing the why of citizen conservation

Project proposal case study: Urby

Project owner: Kelly Rummins, Postgraduate Certificate in Connected Environments graduate

The challenge:

Kelly had two key challenges she identified as problems to solve.

Much environmental restoration work involves a dark side – trapping and killing invasive species. This is a difficult pill to swallow for many as environmentalists do it because of a need to remove animals that are destroying natural habitats. It makes sense rationally, but emotionally it’s difficult.

And urban environments have also disconnected people with place. There’s less connection with the natural world that suburbs and cities exist within but also less community networks that help to create local resilience and shared purpose.

Urban Tui spotting. Source: Britta Sisam-Jones

The idea: 

Kelly wanted to change the success metric around trapping and predator reduction efforts while creating deeper connections within local communities.

She considered her mum a persona type in her project definition. “Mum lives along a greenbelt and so makes an effort to trap predators. But she hates killing possums and rabbits and feels badly about it. I thought if she could see the positive impact she’s making through her trapping, it would counteract some of the negative parts.”

The positive impact of environmental restoration is a flourishing native bird population. Kelly wanted to engage local communities to connect with the birds, and connect their trapping actions with evidence of restoration.

The solution:

Using IoT and machine learning, Kelly designed a small remote device solution that captures audio of birdsong, tallying species by local community areas and mapping change over time. With a network of devices across urban regions, at a neighbourhood, community and regional level positive outcomes of predator control can be seen – and celebrated.

The considerations:

Audio recording in urban environments attracts some privacy considerations. “I thought, what would my neighbour think if I put an audio recorder in my backyard and it picks up their conversations with their kids. It’s not ideal and it wouldn’t take long for people to feel uncomfortable about the concept – the entire project wouldn’t work.”

To overcome this ethical consideration, Kelly designed the solution to use Edge Machine Learning to distinguish bird song from other sounds, particularly human sounds. Recording would only be triggered by birdsong and sent to a cloud data storage location.

The future:

Kelly’s initiative is a perfect example of the ‘gain not pain’ side of environmental and social sustainability. Exactly the type of positive reinforcement we need to focus on as we transition life to regeneration principles. 

Kelly is still working on developing this sustainability solution further, alongside her day job as Product Marketing Manager for Starboard Maritime Intelligence. If you’re interested in talking with Kelly about her initiative, you can reach her here.

If you’d like to learn more about using connected environments to solve a problem you’ve got, find out more about our Postgraduate Certificate in Connected Environments.

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