Reality TV meets nature

I love this story of a guy in Germany who mounted a cheap digital camera with a timer on his cat’s collar and has posted pictures of his cat’s adventures throughout the day.

I hope this “street use” of off-the-shelf technology for novel purposes is getting some attention in the field biology world. There are early signs of this with the multidisciplinary TOPP project (Tagging of Pacific Pelagics), which is mounting sensors and GPS tags on fish, turtles, and other ocean-going creatures. And scientists have been putting GPS collars on animals for several years now. But some very interesting options would open up once you can satellite upload GPS info and get real-time imagery (eventually video + night vision) from a small package.

I can’t wait for the megafauna versions of this idea — mountain lions, wolves, and grizzly bears roaming around while I plot their progress on Google Earth and watch their FPS-style livecams like Justin.tv! There’s definitely a business model in here somewhere — maybe pitch it as a unique conservation and safety measure for an endangered species.

Put a livecam on each of California’s 7000 mountain lions! They’re supposed to be protected from hunting, but people worry just as much about being protected from the lions — this would allow the public to keep an eye on every single animal. You could “adopt” them, get Facebook feed-style updates when they’re at rest or on the move, and create a puma version of Youtube for the best bits of footage. Seriously, imagine the thrill of tuning in to watch a mountain lion stalking its prey in real time. Unless you’re at a remote campsite in the woods watching on your laptop via satellite: “Hey, I recognize that tent…”

I’m thinking joint venture btw Google and Encyclopedia of Life. Sell ads on collar-mounted LCD screens for those lucky (or unlucky) enough to have a close viewing. Cost per impression is high, but it’ll be one hell of an impression…OK, that was terrible.

Back to reality, it really is an exciting time for information science and biology. And I hope EOL makes a difference in organizing some funding and attention around high-tech-fueled wildlife conservation. That German cat is just the beginning of all this.