The Institute - June 2019 - 13
quick access to congregating
rhinos, making the animals easier targets. After poachers saw that cameras
had been installed along the park's
fence and learned of arrests being made,
they stopped going there, Becker says.
"Rangers used to dread being
deployed to that park, because they
were almost always guaranteed to
get into shootouts with the poachers,"
Becker says. "Now they have peace
of mind because they no longer have
that stress. It's psychological but, by
installing the cameras, we have taken
that area away from poachers."
When Becker joined the WWF in 2016,
he was the first conservation engineer the organization had ever hired.
He previously worked as an engineering contractor for a variety of organizations including the U.S. Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency,
a U.S. Air Force research lab, and
the Army's Special Forces. His background in military projects gave him
a familiarity with security systems.
IEEE got him into the conservation
field, he said, after a chance meeting
he had in 2014 with a WWF representative who gave a presentation at an
IEEE event in Washington, D.C., about
how drones and robots could be used
to benefit society.
"WWF realized the value of having that
type of engineer in-house-someone
who had a really deep understanding
of the technology, who knew what
was out there and what would work,
but also could bring that technical background to a team that was
knowledgeable about the issues but
who were not necessarily technologists," he says.
Part of Becker's job is to visit game
reserves and work with the experts
on the ground-including rangers,
other researchers, park managers,
and community leaders-to understand their challenges.
"I need to articulate those challenges into engineering requirements,"
he says, "because engineers speak
requirements. Then I either develop
my own solutions or use off-the-shelf
technology that will work in these
environments. This is a better use of
my skill set and a lot more in line with
what I love to do."
He says he's one of the few engineers working on technologies to
protect wildlife. "It's really a shame
there are not more engineers going
into this field," he says. "There should
be a million more like me working to
To that end, Becker and others have
created the conservation technology website Wildlabs.net, where conservationists
on the ground can post their challenge
and engineers can offer solutions.
"There are plenty of areas where
engineers who are interested in this
type of work can get involved and
actually make a meaningful impact,"
he says. "We need plenty of creative
engineers and computer scientists,
because we are just scratching the
surface of ways technology can help."
This article originally appeared online as
"Thermal-Imaging Cameras Help Protect Endangered Rhinos in Africa."
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The Institute - June 2019
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