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Bee an Elephant
A few years back, some researchers from Duke
University ( www.duke.edu) visited the 80 square mile
Wonga Wongue National Park in Gabon to see if they
could develop a system for monitoring the local elephants.
They figured a quadcopter — specifically a DJI Phantom
( www.dji.com) — would be a suitable vehicle for
observing the animals without disturbing them. They
You see, contrary to the common (and silly) myth,
elephants are not even slightly afraid of mice. However,
they are anxious about honeybees, which can get into their
numerous nooks and crannies and cause significant pain —
especially when an entire swarm attacks. In fact, some
African communities build fences made of beehives to keep
the pachyderms away from their crops. Well, it turns out
that quadcopters sound pretty much like bees to elephants,
so they reacted with considerable distress. According to a
Duke research paper:
“Upon testing the [drone] with the park rangers, the
researchers observed signs of disturbance amongst the
elephants when using the UAV system ... Some signs of
distress involved throwing dirt upon hearing the UAV and
quickly retreating, as well as spraying dirt with their trunks;
a behavior known as dusting. In many of these cases, the
elephants would not have been able to visually perceive the
UAV based on the terrain, which suggests that the
elephants were exhibiting these behaviors upon only
hearing the UAV.”
The researchers are testing other drone models to see
which ones are least scary to the elephants and might yet
allow aerial monitoring to be acceptable to the herds. So
far, the least bee-like is the 3DR Iris+ from 3D Robotics
( 3dr.com), so if you are plagued by too many of the beasts
in your back yard, avoid this one. SV
Drones and elephants are not necessarily compatible.
Take a Load Off
Here in the land of Perrier and indoor
plumbing, we sometimes forget that much of
the world has neither. Such is the case in the
village of Ayyampathy, in the southern Indian
state of Tamil Nadu. In this little town,
residents (usually women) have to walk
anywhere between 100 and 500 m (109 and
546 yd) to a community water tank, fill up five
gallon jugs with water, and haul them back
home on their heads. On average, they make 15 trips per
day, which translates into about five hours of carrying the
20 kg ( 44 lb) jugs. This is not exactly an efficient use of
time and energy.
Recently, some researchers from India’s Amrita
University ( www.amrita.edu) and the University of
Glasgow ( www.gla.ac.uk) conducted a study in which the
200 villagers were offered the opportunity to let a robot
take over the chore for them. This sounds pretty simple,
but you have to remember that none of them had ever
seen a robot in real life and were skittish about the
concept. Plus, the women didn’t want to communicate
with the male researchers, so they had to recruit a woman
to do the talking. In all, only 11 people were willing to give
it a try.
A Clearpath Robotics’ ( www.clearpathrobotics.com)
Husky was fitted with a crate that would hold three 20 liter
jugs — more than most people can handle. The Husky was
equipped with a Bluetooth speaker so it could talk to
villagers in a nice voice, speaking Tamil.
In the end, all the participants agreed that the robots
made life easier for them, but it was still a bit complicated
in that they all believed the robots to be alive, even though
they were controlled remotely by a human.
It finally occurred to the researchers that almost none
of the residents had electricity (oops), so recharging the
batteries was going to pose a problem. It sort of makes
you wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler just to run a few pipes
from the tank.
Or, give them a few donkeys.
SERVO 05/06.2018 9
Clearpath Robotics’ Husky, carrying jugs of water.