Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Ideas to Toss: Virtual Community Watch. Preserving Earth

Posted on: August 15, 2008

There was sometime back when was doing a rough math on how many live camera streams there are. There are some that are pointed towards the “habitat” of the Loch Ness Monster, there are enough live traffic camera, and plenty of them pointed towards a birds nest or so. And if you take the example of Justin.tv (which seems to be inspired by The Truman Show), even people are willing to play their part in all this.

Ofcourse all of this is a one way broadcast. Apart from adult sites which are apparently making their niche through two way interaction, there is not much that is happening in this space.

Is there any of that, that can be adapted into the “green” scenario? A couple of light bulbs went on and off and here’s the thought (or Idea):

MMORPG
The forest department today plans thousands of saplings every year on barren lands to convert them into lush green forests, but the biggest problem with it has been the case of watering them. There is not enough manpower to do those menial tasks – at the salary that the govt is providing – and there is also the issue of accountability where all the saplings near the roadside stand straight and well watered, but the ones in the interior die away because laziness kicks in for most of these workers. They are not to be blamed either when the scorching sun is merciless on them and they are poorly prepped for all that.

The idea is to basically plant all the saplings as the forest department does and then have water drums which can be filled periodically with water from trucks (much simpler task). The pipes to the saplings will be set on drip irrigation and there will be a soil moisture sensor in the soil which measures if there is water or not. Set a Camera that overlooks this area, connect it to the Internet and create a frontend to a MMORPG (Massively Multi-user Online Role Playing Game). If that’s too much of an acronym, think Second Life. People can “adopt” grids of these fields and take care of them. All they have to do is, once the soil moisture turns a bit low, hit the buttons that will start the drip irrigation and stop them when the moisture level is optimal.

There are already countless number of such “events” that happen in Second Life, where if one plants a sapling in the virtual world, an organization instead plants one in the real world somewhere. This would just be an extension of that.

Now, technically you can take this to the next level. Think of all the Wild Life Sanctuaries. The biggest problem today is Poachers (I am still worried if I have to show stuffed toys of Tigers as our National Animal to my kids someday), and the forest officers are not nearly paid enough to scout the areas – and they are very ill armed to protect themselves from these animals as well. What if we could setup a range of Wifi cameras, stream the videos and let people monitor them. I’m sure there are enough animal activists around the world that some might even take it up while we sleep. All they would have to do is to hit a button which will alert the officer if a Poacher is spotted. And give the front end the control to click a snap if they want to document something and we might capture poachers and exotic wildlife as souvenirs.

I think finally, and its about time that the conscious of having to go green is kicking in. And we are gonna have to do everything – not just to sustain – but positively influence this planet to make it sustainable and even stay on the existential path. Maybe entrepreneurship, technology and the enthusiasm of the global audience can create a network of Global Watchers, to take care of the assets around us – All this while getting to “play” their roles.

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8 Responses to "Ideas to Toss: Virtual Community Watch. Preserving Earth"

Throw in mixed reality games( Say Geocaching treasure hunts) it adds new dimension to the milieu.

Technology can definitely reduce friction and reduce barriers of participation.

Concept Culling and Concept selling to translate these ideas into sustainable biz/volunteer activity is a challenge. At the moment they are ‘Wikipedia’ like: Ideas whose value is counter-intuitive/not very obvious( for shared vision/goal purpose) at the outset.

As an aside, since you mentioned sensors, I think Sensor integration with web and sensor integration with virtual world will be an interesting niche for startup action.

Vijay,

I think the idea has some mettle. But one of the first things that struck me, was the price! Am sorry for being the Devil’s Advocate here, but wouldn’t it be easier to just pay those people more, who water the plants?

Btw, am a techie with some time on my hands. If you want to try out a proto of that system, and are looking for volunteers, I could pitch in.

Cheers,
R

Rohitesh, Drip water irrigation is quite cheap stuff, and a device which turns on and off comes to about Rs. 50 – we have them designed in IIT for controlling the valves of metro drinking water.

You just need a camera and a wifi link (which is the extra cost). Look at it however, and the cost works out cheaper.

Hmm that’s a pretty interesting idea, this will bring more customer interactions. But we have planted in very diverse regions, let me check if we can come up with a solution. Role playing is something that will make our site more impressive. Thanks for the idea !!!

BTW i’m not sure if Poacher can be stopped. I once met one the guys in a village close to western ghats.The forest officials themselves are so close to these villages ( they r usually part of the villages). They themselves go hunting,share the hunt n carry it home !!!! With a such a situation I don’t think any tech can save wild.I fear we will end up making jurassic park 12 with tigers n deers.

Anil,

Let me know how to take this up, I’d be glad to help in anyway. Got a few others who are interested.

As for the wildlife, well, maybe if all of it is online, maybe we can also keep those foresters accountable – but yep, i am aware that they share the spoils :| Unfortunate, but happens.

It’s quite a challenge for a startup, we can do this when we have one huge space and huge number of trees. I will put this system to test with our first Corporate forest. But i’m not sure if we can try with cams,wifis and specially the pipes. There are thousands of unpunishable thieves around.
Open source should help me with the role play.
The next thing would be keep the people interested. Doing this with animals would be great. But with trees are slow for ones lifetime and with not much change people leave !!!! Need more practical changes to the plan.

Vijay, awesome idea. It immediately struck me as something along the lines of Seti@Home. To successfully use distributed computing- (or in this case, human-) power will definitely yield results. We could start with a small proto-type and decide what would work. Are you and your contacts already discussing something like this?

Hi

The ideas we are discussing can see the light of the day only if making the setup makes some economic sense.
We can find volunteers and techies ready to put efforts but when it comes to financials we dont see many takers. I will be posting a business plan for the above discussion and request you guys to see if we can have some potential takers for it.

Sourabh

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