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Science in the Society : Saving Wildlife

by Editor CTS

Conserving wildlife while human society expands into the far corners of the Earth has been a tough act to balance and one that we are constantly failing at. 

For all the technological advancements that we have made for ourselves, our biggest interventions to safeguard animal life have been fences that run into miles or overhead bridges that animals do not know how to use. 
Vedant Srinivas, a sophomore at Eastlake High School in Sammamish, Washington in the U.S. who has been using advances in science and technology to prevent road kills. Just a teenager, Vedant has dived deep into animal learning and behavior as well as physics and economics to design and deploy interventions that are cost-effective and do their job. 
Vedant Srinivas with an ORA prototype
Vedant working on an ORA protoype

For our second interview in the Science in the Society series, we spoke to Vedant over email. The interview has been edited for clarity. 

CTS: What got you interested in wildlife conservation? Why are your innovations focused in this space?
Vedant Srinivas: I’ve been an animal person my whole life. From a young age, I would always choose to be around animals rather than play with cars, and the San Diego Safari Park was my favorite place to go. A few years ago, I visited my cousin in Boston and got very close to their dog – Elsa. Upon my return back to Seattle I got the news that Elsa became a victim of roadkill. This event affected me a lot. 

In addition, living in a suburban neighborhood in the evergreen state of Washington, I see roadkill very regularly, and it is a tragedy that needs to be stopped. I researched the problem of roadkill, its causes, and the impact it creates on biodiversity and ecological balance. I combined this motivation with my passion for technology, and have been working relentlessly to eliminate roadkill. Looking at roadkill I learned about other problems in the field of ecological conservation. 
Ora Device – Light sensors on both sides, solar-powered,
speaker at the bottom for deterrent noises.

One of them involves mountain lions entering livestock pens and stealing animals. This forces the farmers to harm the mountain lions in order to protect their own livestock. To solve this problem without harming the livestock or the mountain lions, I developed a device called Ora that uses radio frequency-based motion sensors to detect the presence of mountain lions near livestock pens and then deter these lions from entering the pen. I have deployed this device in Southern California and have been refining the design with inputs from the field.
How much would an Ora setup cost to be put up?

Ora is about $100, and it has a range of upwards of 500 feet on either side of a straight road. The cost comes out to approximately $600 per mile compared to fencing which is $100,000 per mile and animal bridges which can be upward of $4 million. A road equipped with Ora acts like a virtual fence allowing animals to pass when there is no danger from cars but warns them when there are vehicles approaching.

Experimenting with Solar Power Charging in the rare Seattle Sun!

There are some existing products in this space. What are the shortcomings that you are trying to overcome?

The main problem with other virtual fence solutions is habituation. This is where the animal eventually gets used to the sounds and light emitted by the solution over time. This is primarily due to using tonal beeps and single light patterns. I overcame potential habituation with Ora by using light patterns that vary constantly and colors that are tuned to fit the animal’s visual spectrum. For example (deer are more reactive to light in the blue to green wavelength).

Looking at audio, I use predatory noises like wolf howls and bear growls to deter prey animals, as studies have proven they are more susceptible to that, and also these sounds stay effective for much longer timeframes compared to tonal beeps. I also randomly cycle through the audio files.

Where has this product been recognized? Which organizations have supported your work?

I presented Ora at the International Conference on Ecology and Transportation in September of 2021 and received interest from people in several states in the US and even Sweden. I won the Student Aspiration Award (best presentation amongst all students– including doctoral students) at this conference and I am the only high schooler to ever have participated in the conference. 
Ora also won first place in the category of environmental engineering at the Central Sound Regional Science and Engineering Fair and Washington state science and engineering fair in 2021. I am also doing an internship at UC Davis Dr. Fraser Shilling and have done a lot of machine learning work directed at eliminating the problem of roadkill.
Preparing to deploy the Ora devices in Southern California

My work has been supported by several departments of transportation including Nevada and the UC Davis Road Ecology Center.

Are forest departments / road transport authorities interested in this tech?
Yes, I am currently working with other departments of transportation in the Pacific Northwest to deploy Ora devices – I am not at liberty to reveal much information about them at this point but I will surely keep you updated as things progress

If these innovations became popular how do you plan to scale their deployment?

To scale Ora I started my own company, IyarkAI. I have outsourced my manufacturing to a contract hardware shop in Kerala, India and currently working through design for manufacturing processes. There is another variant of Ora for predator deterrence that has seen traction and right now I’m working on modifying the first version to accommodate RF-based motion sensor technology for this use case.

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