Microchips to protect trees from smugglers

Foresters and farmers in Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have decided to go high-tech to protect the precious flora from smugglers and timber mafia. Scientists from the Bengaluru-based Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST) have helped insert microchips in precious trees of the region including sandalwood, red sanders, teak and mahogany to alert the owners about the trees being stolen or uprooted.

Buoyed by the success of its pilot study on the IWST campus in Malleswaram and an agroforestry farm near Nelamangala, the scientists now plan to insert microchips in forests and farmlands of Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

IWST, last year, in association with Hitachi India, had developed chip-based sensors and related software for recording signals. The microchips were inserted into trees especially the 50 sandalwood trees on the campus on an experimental basis. The improvised chips will be inserted into sandalwood trees in Marayur range in Idukki forest division of neighbouring Kerala.

The camouflaged bark-coloured chips running on the Internet of Things (IoT) technology are just 1.5 inches in size and can easily be inserted into trees. The chips pick up vibrations triggered by axes and saws. The accelerometer and a radio frequency emitter in the chips send signals to the server and owner of the forest patch or planter or to the Security guards.

The chips are water and dust resistant and adapt to various agro-climatic conditions. The sensors are capable of distinguishing between the vibrations triggered by axe or saw cut or natural forces like wind and rain.

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