Skip to main content

Rapid prototyping lab for conservation technology

27th February 2023 to 31st March 2025

Open-source low-cost conservation technology has the potential to transform conservation practice and to widen access to conservation science. It allows experiments to be performed at greater scale, often in collaboration with citizen scientists, and addresses inequity by allowing scientists in the Global South to fully participate in conservation research. Developments in conservation technology typically involve the use of machine learning in combination with low-power embedded microcontrollers and sensors. The resulting devices are typically deployed in environments to collect novel conservation data and can have significant impact. 

To support future successes in this space, this project seeks to establish a rapid prototyping lab specifically focused on conservation technology. The lab will initially focus on supporting SnapperGPS, a novel low-cost open-source snapshot GPS receiver for wildlife tracking being developed at the University of Oxford, in its development from a research prototype to a fully developed easy-to-deploy device. SnapperGPS is the work of two Oxford DPhil students, who completed the initial open-source hardware design and worked with initial collaborators to deploy it in two trial deployments: tracking (i) sea turtles on Capo Verde and (ii) Manx shearwater on Skomer Island in the UK. Existing funding has allowed a further 100 trial devices to be manufactured and distributed to conservation researchers worldwide. 

The rapid prototyping lab will support and expand this effort. The lab currently has soldering facilities and electronic test equipment with a significant stock of consumables for electronic device prototyping. This will be augmented with facilities to enable low-volume manufacturing of device housings. This is particularly important for developing conservation technology. While PCB assembly can be easily outsourced, developing custom robust waterproof housings that are suitable for individual deployments cannot. The lab will explore the use of desktop CNC milling, 3D printing, and low-cost resin moulding, to facilitate scalable low-volume design and manufacture of custom housings. 

Alongside supporting the development of SnapperGPS, the lab will act to accelerate activity in this area through attracting MSc / DPhil students and will act as catalyst for the development of future funding proposals. 

Principal Investigator

Share this: