Wildlife researchers primarily studying ways to save the vulture population approached an electronic hardware maker to help them in their conservation project by making a 3D egg with sensors.
The International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP), the oldest in the world, is currently undertaking research and action plans to save the South Asian vulture population. Part of their project is a husbandry program, which aims to increase the vulture population via captive breeding.
Researchers were faced with the difficulty of monitoring the vulture eggs, which requires to be in an ideal environment. This has prompted them to collaborate with the tech company Microduino in making 3D printed fake egg packed with sensors to check moisture and temperature of the nest.
To complement the nest environment, the egg shell was made up of PA220 nylon, durable enough and has a texture similar to that of a vulture egg. To prevent the mother from growing suspicious, the shape and weight distribution of the egg was the same as a normal vulture egg.
The artificial eggs would allow researchers to monitor the nests without human contact that might interrupt the mother vulture during the 70-day hatching cycle. The creation of the fake eggs is crucial as vultures tend to their eggs every day by rotating them and making sure that they are incubated properly.
Through the fake egg, EggDuino, researchers would be able to understand the birds of prey and their hatching behaviors.
"We don't know exactly what those temperatures are, the amount of turning that goes on, the humidity, everything else that goes on underneath the parent," said Adam Bloch, an ICBP conservationist.
To make the project possible, engineers from Microduino created a stack of three modules, about 3 x 1 inches per piece and fit it inside an average-sized vulture egg. The egg has three components inside, including a core module that acts as the main processor, Bluetooth module that sends data to a communication terminal, and multisensory module that has a gyrometer, accelerometer, and barometer.
The said modules were connected to 14 temperature sensors present in the inner surface of the eggshell and a humidity sensor. A 1,800 mAh lithium battery powers the eggs.
With the highly complex artificial egg, the software transmits significant and real-time data to the ICBP researchers.
This collaboration offers researchers the observational techniques that could provide a less invasive way of studying the ecosystem.
Vultures are famous for eating meat from a carcass, but they are a vital part of the ecosystem. They are known to devour rotting meat without getting poisoned, which is because evolution has given vultures a gut that can kill bacteria. Their diet removes infectious human microbes in the ecosystem.