The Second Nature Project

Mark Breneman

The Second Nature Project is a service which upcycles old smartphones into wildlife observation cameras. Donated smartphones are paired with wildlife researchers and are used in their research to raise public awareness to their work.

The Second Nature Project gives consumers a way to re-evaluate their relationship with "post-consumer" e-waste, helping them realize the great potential of smartphone technology in other applications.

The project consists of three parts: a website for smartphone donation, an enclosure to house the donated phones, and a motion detecting camera app.

As a service, The Second Nature Project accepts donated smartphones through the website, equips them with the camera app, and secures them within an enclosure. The transformed smartphones are then paired with a researcher providing them with an important observational tool. In return, smartphone donors get a photographic window into their old device's second life as a tool for the researchers

At the outset of the Second Nature Project my research efforts were split into two areas; understanding how wildlife cameras were used by researchers, and looking into how consumers address end of life conditions of smartphones. Within each of these efforts I conducted primary(in person interviews) and secondary(online and through other media) research.

Early secondary research around wildlife camera's and their use led me to the book,Camera Traps in Animal Ecology which was immensely valuable in understanding and getting a context for these wildlife cameras, their impact to wildlife research, and the different ways they are used within the context of ecology. In addition to Camera Traps and Ecology, I spent a good amount of time reviewing academic papers of researchers who explicitly used camera traps in their research. These papers included;

Validation of a Citizen Science-Based Model of Coyote Occupancy with Camera Traps in Suburban and Urban New York, USA

C.M. Nagy, M.E. Weckel, A. Toomey, C.E. Burns & J. Peltz

How Small is too Small? Camera Trap Survey Areas and Density Estimates for Ocelots in the Bolivian Chaco
Leonardo Maffei and Andrew J. Noss

Use of Mineral Licks by White-Bellied Spider and Red Howler Monkeys in Eastern Ecuador
John G. Blake & Jaime Guerra & Diego Mosquera & Rene Torres & Bette A. Loiselle & David Romo

Wariness of coyotes to camera traps relative to social status and territory boundaries
E.S. Sequin & Michael M. Jaeger & Peter F. Brussard & Reginald H. Barrett

Patterns of Mineral Lick Visitation by Spider Monkeys and Howler Monkeys in Amazonia: Are Licks Perceived as Risky Areas?
Andres Link & Nelson Galvis & Erin Fleming & Anthony Di Fiore

Smartphone Evolution and Reuse: Establishing a more Sustainable Model
Xun Li & Pablo J. Ortiz & Jeffrey Browne & Diana Franklin & John Y. Oliver & Roland Geyer & Yuanyuan Zhouy &Frederic T. Chong

Having read these papers, I reached out to many of the authors for feedback. Although there were a lot of dead ends, a few of the researchers did get back to me, and allowed me to interview them. I conducted eight interviews in person, and over the web(some of the researchers were in the field doing research currently), all of which have been captured here;

In concert with the eight researchers I was in touch with I also reached out to four conservationist groups,The Wildlife Conservation Society, Panthera, The Zoological Society of London, and The Rainforest Alliance, to discuss their use of wildlife cameras and their engagement of the public. Additionally I took the time to do a competitive analysis of the wildlife cameras out on the market currently.

As a parallel effort to all wildlife camera research I also researched smartphone adoption globally and the end-of-life opportunities that exist. Much of which I've captured here;

This research included talking with employees at retail AT&T and Sprint stores about their end of life recycling programs, as well as an e-waste recycling company called Revivn here in NYC, who gave me insight into many of the challenges that they face with the variety of smartphones.

All of this research informed my process and approach to thinking about how to develop The Second Nature Project in terms of its impact to the work of the wildlife researchers as well as the consumers who would participate in the service.

Wildlife Researchers, Conservationists, Smartphone Owners, the general public

User Scenario
Consumers would donate their smartphones through the website. When the Second Nature Project receives the smartphones, it equips them with the camera app, and packages them in the enclosure. The transformed smartphone would then be paired with a wildlife researcher who places it in the wild as part of their research. When the transformed smartphones take a picture, the consumer would be notified with that picture engaging them with the research and thanking them for their donation.

I started out very early on getting the app functional, and developing loose wireframes for its general functionality.

The app was developed in Eclipse as a native app(using Java), as a it needed to access the pixels of each frame of the camera.

With the basic functionality down I quickly got to testing the app in the Bronx Zoo. This small test gave me insight into some UI assumptions that I had made within the app, as well as a great deal of insight into the performance characteristics of the motion detection app. With preliminary test results I went out and re-engaged researchers in order to get their feedback, most of which was positive on the quality of the photos, but somewhat critical of the battery life. This gave me direction moving forward and focus my efforts on developing a website to show off the photos, and an enclosure for stability(which leads to better battery life). In developing the website, I conceptualized a few different scenarios for consumer participation, and wireframed out the general layout of the website.

Having established a loose structure to the website I began coding. The website was built using Python, and MongoDB. As they relate to each other, The Second Nature App when uploading photos, makes a post request to website, which then pushes the photo and meta information to S3 and Mongo, where it can then be retrieved with the website.

After developing the the website and the app I then began production of the enclosure. I started out with some rough breadboard models made out of foam core and modified purchase parts. I then worked towards a more refined 3D Printed enclosure, using Solidworks.

The Second Nature Project, for me has been a great one in that it allowed me a lot of flexibility in the work that I got to take on. Additionally, it exposed me to the great amount work that is being done by wildlife researchers around the world. While The Second Nature Project is still a prototype, I believe that it is something that with more time and effort can really begin to address the needs of the wildlife researchers and the growing e-waste problem. Moving forward I'll be continuing The Second Nature Project on the side. My efforts will be largely focused on developing partnerships with the Zoological Society of London, refining the website, and working out the logistics of phone donation. It is my hope that through the continued development of the Second Nature Project researchers will be enabled with the tools they need and the consumers will be empowered to handle their e-waste responsibly.