Apr 2, 2016 | By Tess

While we often talk about how 3D printing technologies have had a big impact in such varied fields as engineering, healthcare, architecture, fashion, and design, another, rather unassuming, field has started to find new applications for 3D printing that are directly helping our friends in the animal kingdom. The field, if you haven’t guessed, is animal conservation, and it has started using 3D printing in innovative ways to help further research on, and try to save a number of endangered species. Recently, for instance, we wrote about how a conservation organization is developing 3D printed sea turtle eggs equipped with GSM to help track and take down turtle egg poachers and smugglers.

Now, using 3D printing and micro-controllers, the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) in the UK is hoping to learn more about a critically endangered species of vulture in order to better understand the species and what it needs to survive. Vultures, which to some may seem like scary or morbid animals as they feed on the carcasses of dead animals, are an essential part of nature’s life cycle, as they help stop the spread of disease within nature by consuming dead animals. In recent years, however, vulture populations have been in quick decline, especially in Southeast Asia where a drug given to cattle has been poisoning and killing the birds.

In an effort to save the bird species and to stop it from nearing extinction, researchers are hoping to find out crucial information about vultures’ breeding behaviors and conditions by using specially made 3D printed vulture eggs equipped with hidden micro-controllers. To create the intelligent eggs, that could pass unnoticed by a nesting vulture, the ICBP teamed up with Microduino, a company specializing in Arduino compatible micro-controllers and modules.

Of course, creating a realistic looking vulture egg was not easy, especially considering it needed to be equipped with enough sensors to measure both the nest’s internal temperature as well as the temperature gradient across its surface, its barometric pressure, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, light intensity, and the egg’s movement and rotation. On top of the multitude of sensors, the egg also had to be able to transmit the information remotely and be able to operate without human intervention for 70 days straight to avoid disturbing the vultures.

After much research and work, the team at Microduino produced what they have called the EggDuino, a 3D printed vulture-egg shell loaded up with all the necessary components. The shell itself was made using SLS 3D printing out of a nylon material (PA2200 to be exact), and contained a laser-cut wood enclosure that itself held the electrical components. In the end, the team at Microduino were able to equip the egg with a Microduino core, a Bluetooth Low Energy module, a multisensor 10DOF module that included a gyroscope, accelerometer, a magnetic field strength sensor, and a barometer, fourteen DS18B20 temperature sensors, and a SHT21 humidity sensor. Powered by a 1,800-milliampere-hour lithium-ion battery, the egg modules can transmit their data to a terminal made up of a Wi-Fi enabled Raspberry Pi, a Bluetooth module, a real time-clock module, and a weather station module.

With the 3D printed eggs made and assembled, they have been placed inside the vultures’ nests, while the terminals are placed just far away enough to not bother the animals but close enough to be Bluetooth connected to receive data transmissions. The terminal is also capable of monitoring conditions like the weather from outside the nest, as well as saving its own data and the data coming from the nest. Using the data from the 3D printed eggs, each with a different ID, researchers are able to visualize, in real time, the surface temperature gradient of each egg.

As the project is finalized, the ICBP is planning on officially deploying their 3D printed eggs within the next month in either Africa or India. The field studies will be targeted towards finding out information on three of the most critically endangered vulture species: the Oriental White-backed Vulture, the Long-billed Vulture, and the Slender-billed Vulture. If the field tests prove successful, the technology used by Microduino and the ICBP could potentially be used not only to save the dwindling vulture populations but in other conservation and even environmental efforts as well.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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