Research at IISc: Shooting wildlife with the IISc Camera Trap
Sharath Ahuja, a Technical Officer at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), talks about the cutting edge research being carried out at IISc.
He has shot -The Tiger, in fact several of them, the fearsome Bison and the elusive Porcupine and the Mongoose, there’s also the odd Leopard and Hyena, not to forget Elephants, Deer and Bears. That’s Scientist and Wildlife enthusiast Dr.Andre Pittet, for you.
Dr.Andre Pittet is a Project Advisor at the Centre for Electronics and Design Technology (CEDT) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore. Andre uses the CAMERA TRAP – an automatic remote sensing camera unit to ‘shoot’ wildlife for scientific studies. He’s got a quote in his office that says “All good things are Wild and Free” – Henry David Thoreau. When Andre accidentally over heard colleagues, from the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) lamenting on the camera trap device they bought locally which was a poorly designed complicated system and very difficult to set-up, he decided to help and thus began his quest to develop a better and more reliable camera trap system.
Their first experimental attempts way back in 2002 were with a camera that recorded images on photographic film with motion sensors that Andre picked up when on a visit back home in Switzerland, and simple electronic circuitry rigged up with resistors and transistors. The experimental device was housed in a jerry can and taken to the forest for testing, and lo and behold they ‘shot a tiger’ on film.
The early lab prototype was a good learning experience; there were problems galore - that needed to be solved, so it was back to the lab. Andre and his team at CEDT, spent days researching, field testing, checking results and getting a feedback from users. After developing several versions using various combinations of systems what has emerged from the lab is a portable, lightweight, affordable state-of-the-art camera trap device.
Though compact and expensive, they have several drawbacks, they would switch off quickly – power saving mode or as Andre says they would “go to sleep”. Since they were going to be used in the wild for long periods of time, they needed to be ON or ‘always awake’, Andre and his group designed and developed special electronic circuitry or ‘keep awake- signal system’ that kept the camera ‘always ON’. Several new electronic circuit designs have been developed at IISc for the camera trap unit integrating signals from the sensors/detectors and for several features of the camera operation.
Expensive camera trap systems are commercially available abroad but Andre feels that it has been a challenge for his team to develop an indigenous unit, with electronic circuitry developed at IISc which is reliable, tried, tested and affordable. He is extremely proud to say that ever since he began researching and developing Camera Traps, his laboratory has delivered about 220 film based units and several hundred digital units to: Conservationists, NGO’s and Forest Officials all over the country. He hopes that his scientific contribution will help save the dwindling population of several endangered wildlife species in India – especially the magnificent Tiger.
Over the years Andre has enjoyed taking his camera trap unit into the wild, collaborating with several scientists, conservationists and forest officials and treasures his vast collection of thousands of photographs of Indian Wildlife that he has ‘captured’ on film so far. Andre and his Team at CEDT, IISc, continue to work on the CAMERA TRAP.
Sharath Ahuja, joined IISc in 1980 and is a Technical Officer at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. He con-currently holds the position as Coordinator, Archives and Publications Cell at IISc. He is a freelance writer on Science and Technology related subjects and an amateur photographer.
(Article first appeared in the newspaper – Deccan Herald Student Edition)