Scarecrows no more?
Lack of young blood in farming in Taiwan has led to problems like low productivity, and many old farmers have left the industry due to exhaustion.
Now it seems even scarecrows are an endangered species.
It’s not that farmers are getting lazier; it’s that the birds that damage crops are getting smarter and are not scared of scarecrows anymore. Farmers, therefore, have to use firecrackers and laser pointers to drive them away, which takes too much time and energy, and is exhausting the farmers.
In response to this problem, three students in the Creative Product Design Department at te Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology—Peixuan Wu (吳姵萱), Yunwei Liao (廖勻薇) and Zhengyan Chen (陳政諺)—have created a design concept called Chase it! The Smart Scarecrow, which has already won several awards.
Maker Farm Summer, the road to bird control
Brimming with enthusiasm, nevertheless at first the students had no idea where to begin, until they took part in the Maker Farm Summer Camp organized by the Southern Taiwan Maker Center, part of the Yunlin-Chiayi-Tainan Regional Branch Workforce Development Agency. The students met many farmers at the camp and amassed a lot of useful information that city kids like them would not otherwise be aware of. Eventually, this led them onto the road to bird control.
The inspiration behind Chase it! The Smart Scarecrow was actually a news story about using laser pointers for bird control:
Seeing the effectiveness of laser pointers, they decided to try to make them even better. They looked at the way an eagle dives onto its prey, and used it in the design of their product. The two-piece device is easy to assemble—standing vertically in a field—and the smart interactive app is specially designed for use by the older generation.
There are four main features:
1. Red and green laser pointers for effective control
Birds have a far more acute sense of sight than hearing. Studies show that higher frequencies of light are more effective at driving birds away. Birds see flashes of green light as fluttering bats and fly away.
2. Mirror mesh projection: Extended coverage, better control
The crossed-shaped green light works like a spirit level. You can see it from five meters away in daylight, and it is bright enough to be positioned anywhere on a farm. The five-line laser level includes four perpendicular lines, one parallel line and a plumb bob. Unlike regular laser pointers that target one bird at a time, this device targets multiple birds for far greater bird control.
3. AI image recognition: accurate targeting, autonomous tracking
Once a bird crosses the border, the device locks on and starts projecting the laser until the bird leaves the area. The three students wrote the program using OpenCV image recognition and Python on a Raspberry Pi, then used the Arduino humidity sensor to add environment tracking. The device analyzes humidity levels and notifies the user of potential bird intrusion.
Two types of image recognition are used: the first is OpenCV image learning. The program learns from the abundant images stored in memory, adjusts the ratio of Haar-like feature parameters to samples, and creates a final training file. The other type is Google Machine Learning, which works by collecting data with a browser and a camera to develop a learning profile.
4. Cloud Farm Security System
The security system has three features. The first is remote activation and device autonomy: once it is switched on, it functions on its own. The second monitors the device for malfunctions that require a restart, and then notifies the user through the app. The third is alarm notification. In addition to the device’s own security system, the user can also use the app to monitor the farm for trespassers: any ingress sets off an alarm to alert the user.
When Wu, Liao, and Chen first proposed the idea, the response was unenthusiastic. However, with technical guidance from Southern Taiwan Maker Center, feedback from farmers, and assistance from friends and teachers, their product Chase It! The Smart Scarecrow has been successfully released to good reviews.
The students said that you can only make a good product when you are yourself a user. They went on to thank everybody who helped to make this product possible.
Chase It! The Smart Scarecrow Awards
- First Prize & Gold Award, 4th Designer Venture Challenge
- Industrial Design First Prize, A+ Creative Festival 2018
- Nominated, YSED Competition Final Round
- Honorable mention, Bayer Taiwan Innovation Award Agriculture