Remote-controlled wireless robots that relay real-time video footage will track the movement of leopards and other animals in the dense forests of Maharashtra, state forest department officials said. A proposal will soon be submitted to the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B), to acquire the backpack rovers.
Forest officials said the rover will be used to mitigate poaching incidents and man-animal conflicts.
The move was finalised after Thane forest officials used the rover to trace a leopard with IIT-B students, after it entered their Powai campus on November 6. In 2014, an earlier version of the remote-inspection vehicle was used to track the big cats for the first time, after they were spotted entering the metallurgy department on campus.
Forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar told HT that the department had put together a special wing that is looking to acquire different kinds of technology to enhance and aide forest officials and the proposal will be a part of this.
“The department is currently drafting out a proposal to be submitted to IIT-B. A five-member committee focusing on tech-advancement for forest services has looked into the advantages of using such devices and after that the proposal was approved,” said Mungantiwar, adding that other devices, including the acquisition of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles relaying real-time video) were being planned, subject to approvals and security clearances.
The team at Innovation Cell, IIT-B, a student body, first made the remote operated vehicle for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) — a student design competition in 2013. They represented India in the world finals at San Diego, California and bagged second place worldwide. The same robot was used in June, 2014, to search for the leopard in one of the labs at the campus.
“This year, our team developed a remote-operated vehicle specifically for military purposes. A soldier can carry it in his backpack and deploy it to a location that is out of sight and enables the unit to avoid an ambush or a rigged explosive device,” said Rishabh Choudhary, fourth-year B Tech and team leader of the project. “This robot is much tougher and robust as compared to the earlier design and can relay live video feed back to the operator via radio transmission.”
Weighing in at 25kg, the unmanned mobile rover can travel at a maximum speed of 7km an hour and functions on a 22 volt battery, which can reach full capacity of five hours after being charged for three hours. “The robot has tracks to manoeuvre on rough terrain and an onboard video acquisition card and micro-controller to store, process and transmit data to a seven-inch LCD monitor,” said Ankit Sharma, the other team leader.
Forest officers said such technology will phase out the use of camera traps put up on light poles and trees. “It will be extremely beneficial to us; as such devices are mobile as opposed to stationary camera equipment,” said Kishore Thakre, deputy conservator of forest, Thane. “The updated vehicle does not produce a lot of noise during movement and this will allow us to keep the sanctity of the forest intact and avoid issues such as poaching and man-animal conflicts.”
THE BACKPACK ROVER
•Mobile: Can easily climb stairs, rolls over rubble, traverses rocks, mud and snow and can navigate through narrow passages
•Expandable: Quick response time, recharges fast and can provide video feedback up to 2 kilometres (depending on a clear line of sight)
•Portable: Can be carried by one person, quickly packed in bags, can fit in the trunk of a vehicle
•Easy to use: Relays real-time video, easy to use hand controller
•Size of chassis: Height – 25 cm, Width – 50cm, Length – 50 cm, Weight – 25kg
IIT-B team that put together the project
Professor Incharge: Professor Anirban Guha from the Mechanical Department, IIT B
Team Leaders: Rishabh Choudhary, 4th year B Tech and Ankit Sharma, 4th year B Tech.
Members: Anjan Kumar Patel, Ravi Jain, Nitin Choudhary, Dinesh Bhataliya, Nishant Venkatesh, Utsav Khinchi, Shikhar Budhiraja