Can Minicomputers Save a Species?

Dennis Faas's picture

Technology has allowed us to save time and energy, but can it save an endangered species?

In Deerfield River, Massachusetts, computer engineers looking to test new wireless communication networks have teamed up with biologists looking to track local area snapping turtles. It's a species that has many people worried that their extinction is inevitable due to the rapid expansion of nearby land development.

The project to save said turtles is school-related, and is whole-heartedly endorsed by the University of Massachusetts. Using a combination of orthodontic cement and duct tape, students attach a postcard-sized, waterproof minicomputer directly onto the snapping turtle's shell. (Source:

Knowing where the snapping turtles go could be the first step in helping to protect this endangered species.

The idea behind the new technology is to create a network of constantly moving devices that store and record information, transmit data from one device to another, then relay all the saved information to a central location while running on self-charging batteries.

The minicomputers themselves are solar-powered and are light enough so that they don't weigh the turtles down or interrupt their daily life. (Source:

The computers are currently attached to sixteen snapping turtles and will take periodic readings of the location and body temperature of each turtle.

What is most unique about the project?

Once a computer-carrying turtle gets within a tenth-of-a-mile distance from another computer-carrying turtle, the computers swap information. The series of short-distance transmissions is what accounts for the long battery life in each computer, while the solar panels attached to each unit ensures that the batteries are constantly being recharged.

The minicomputers are able to relay information to each other in a similar way to that of text messaging cell phones.

Snapping turtles are quickly becoming an endangered species because land development is forcing them to experience more human contact than ever before. When female turtles leave the swamp to find materials to build a nest, they are constantly crossing busy roads and dangerous intersections. Often times, people are too impatient to yield to these slow-moving creatures. (Source:

The effectiveness of these minicomputers is yet to be determined, but students and wildlife experts are hoping for the best.

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