ODI Leeds

The Internet of Bats

Open innovation, and bats.

 

Whenever we start a project at ODILeeds we always ask “what question are you trying to answer?”. From that, the rest usually follows.

We sometimes recommend that people work with our friends and sponsors instead of us, or that they avoid a solution involving data completely. But often, we find a great question and set about answering it together.

The great thing about open — whether it’s data, software, hardware, process, or innovation — is that other people usually have much better questions. You can go through lots of rounds of discovery and user-testing to try and find those question. Or you can work in the open so that people can bring their questions to you, or use your data and work to answer their own questions. We do both, but I prefer the latter.

We keep finding that the most valuable outputs come from this process of open innovation. We answer the question we started with and it’s great, but in the following months and years the data and documentation that we produced in doing that lets other people answer dozens more questions.

After three years we’ve got some fantastic examples. Apps and Alexa skills for bin collections. A method for alerting the RAC when roads are at risk of flooding. Distributed smartphones adapted to measure road congestion.

Last week I spoke to someone with some new questions.

Bats

Nicole Brophy works at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and she has some interesting questions.

  • Where do bats live in West Yorkshire?
  • How many bats are there?
  • How active are the bats?
  • What species are the bats?

It turns out that other people, working in the open, have already set about answering these questions in other places. The ArduBat project by Tony Messina in Las Vegas, USA is an Arduino specially adapted to recording and analysing bat calls. It’s fantastically well-documented and now, after years of development, he sells his finalised bat detecting kits.

The ArduBat project
The ArduBat project, by Jim Messina

Talking with Nicole I realised that we might be able to improve on this even further. The key is something that we’ve been building across the North of England for the past few years.

The Things Network and the Bat Network

Jim's bat detector saves data on bat calls to an SD card. That means the detector has to be collected, the SD card removed and read, and then the bat detector reset every time we want to find out whether there’s been bat activity. This is where The Things Network can help.

The Things Network is a free, community-powered network for the internet of things. North England is the leading area of the UK for it. There are Things Networks in Liverpool, Hull, Calderdale, Bradford, Leeds, and most actively in Manchester, from where Things North collect all of our efforts. And one of the world’s top experts is in Hebden Bridge; AB Open help keep Things Calderdale running and just installed one of the highest gateways in the world.

When Nicole got in touch I understood straight away that North England has the chance to improve on this bat detector, and create an internet-connected version. Instead of saving bat calls to an SD card, we can beam them back to the internet using The Things Network.

We have the IoT network already set up, and we have the skills. And on 03 September in Hebden Bridge, at Wuthering Bytes festival’s IoT Build and Deploy day, there’s the chance to learn everything you’d need to do that.

Will I see you in Hebden Bridge in September? Are you already planning a ThingsNetwork Bat Detector? Do you have the skills to build one, teach Nicole, and then take into schools right across Yorkshire? I’d love to hear from you – my email address is tomf@odileeds.org or find me on twitter at @thomasforth.