Web-on-a-chip technology helps create an AI scarecrow

Thursday, 18 April, 2019 | Supplied by: eLabtronics


A new electronics development platform that uses the internet to allow programming to be done directly onto a microchip is simplifying the creation of IoT and AI applications.

Developed by Adelaide-based company eLabtronics over the past five years, the ‘runlinc’ platform’s development system and corresponding webpage are already on the Wi-Fi chip. This differentiates it from other electronic prototyping platforms, such as Arduino, and means programming can be done remotely through a Wi-Fi connection.

“It is a very disruptive technology — it is wireless — and one day there won’t be any more cables needed for programming,” said eLabtronics Technology Manager Miroslav Kostecki, the inventor of the technology.

“Normally you’d have to go to the computer, do the programming, create some sort of interface and put all the things in to create a server and put it on a chip, go back and forth and do the de-bugging.

“Our web server is already on the chip, so for the first time ever the programming is no longer done inside the computer — runlinc is basically a single webpage but it is sitting inside the Wi-Fi chip.”

Recent benchmark testing of runlinc against Arduino asked a team of six postgraduate students to build a web page and create some buttons to control two LED lights. University of Adelaide student Alex Zhang said the task was completed in 30 minutes with six lines of code using runlinc, but with Arduino it took 30 hours and more than 120 lines of code to finish the project.

The platform has also been used in Internet of Things tests to complete employer hackathon tasks in record time. Other early uses include DIY smart home kits and IoT-enabled sensing devices for farmers.

Now the technology has made its way all the way to the tiny South Asian country of Bhutan — the home of tech innovator Dupjay Pelzang, who was alerted to the technology by a colleague in Australia shortly after runlinc received global patent pending status in January.

Pelzang was taught runlinc by Kostecki over WhatsApp video conferences spanning six weeks and was the first person in Bhutan to master the platform. He is now using the technology to develop a prototype electronic scarecrow for the Bhutan Government that uses AI and IoT to scare off agricultural pests.

Bhutan only has a population of 800,000, more than half of whom work in agriculture. But many of its farmers are not happy about wild animals such as deer, monkeys, wild boars, porcupines and elephants destroying up to 70% of their annual harvest.

This presents a particular problem in Bhutan because of the Buddhist belief that all actions should bring the most help and least harm to other beings, which means agricultural pests cannot be physically harmed using traditional methods such as baits, traps and hunting. Electric fences have been used in some areas but are expensive, are not always effective against elephants, are considered inhumane by some and have resulted in a number of human electrocutions.

Using runlinc’s technology, Pelzang’s electronic scarecrow, which is designed to look like a tiger, uses a motion-activated camera to detect and photograph a wild animal in a crop zone. The image is then sent to Google for identification.

The scarecrow will be programmed to recognise five of the major pest animals: porcupine, monkeys, elephant, deer and wild pigs. Once a positive identification is made, the scarecrow determines its programmed response, with scare tactics ranging from loud noises, flashing lights and movements, depending on the target.

An early design of the AI scarecrow.

Pelzang said he aims to have the final prototype of the electronic scarecrow ready for a month-long field trial in July ahead a commercial launch. He said he aims to produce 100,000 government-subsidised scarecrows for Bhutanese farmers, but also plans for potential sales into nearby India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, eLabtronics CEO Dr Peng Choo said the company is in the process of applying for a Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC) grant to teach runlinc to school students as young as eight years old as part of the Australian Government’s focus on STEM education.

“The platforms at the moment are either too simple — like Lego — or too hard like Arduino,” Dr Choo said.

“runlinc is so easy to use that even upper primary school students can get started, so can you imagine what it also does for industry when it’s that easy?”

Top image: The runlinc chip and webpage.

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Online: www.elabtronics.com
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