3D Printed Electronic Egg

Vultures are seriously threatened, and in some places, teeter on the edge of extinction. An increasingly urbanized habitat, poaching, and pollution have driven down their natural population numbers and necessitated breeding programs around the world to maintain viable populations. However, little is known about the complex incubation process of vultures, which poses issues for breeding programs. Since vultures only lay eggs once every year or two, the stakes are high.

This is where the artificial electronic egg comes into play. The International Center for Birds of Prey, the oldest dedicated birds of prey centre in the world (based in Gloucester, England), partnered in 2016 with a private company Microduino (which produces a series of small, stackable, and Arduino-compatible electronic modules targeted towards makers) to create an artificial egg filled with sensors that can transmit information on incubation to researchers. The artificial egg works by connecting a low energy Bluetooth signal to a data-relay terminal, which then transmits the information to researchers. The terminal is kept close enough to the egg to pick up the egg’s signal but far enough to escape the mother vulture’s notice. Information from the artificial egg fills research gaps and better vulture breeding programs. 

Microduino’s initial plan was to incorporate all of the necessary modules and sensors into a 3-D-printed egg, but they had to overcome a logistical challenge: to avoid disturbing nesting vultures, the egg had to be capable of operating independently for 70 days. So the designers created a three part system: a data-collection terminal that would gather data, a data-relay terminal that would receive, process, and retransmit processed data wirelessly, and a data repository in the cloud that researchers could access. Each egg has a unique ID, and the cloud-based software provides a 3-D model of each egg’s surface-temperature gradient, as well as other relevant data, in real time.

It is unclear if electronic eggs might interfere with nesting, or whether the vultures have ever correctly identified a printed egg as a foreign entity in their nests. Nonetheless, this is a step forward in monitoring capability. Scientists hope that electronic eggs will help provide conservationists with the information they need to save vultures from extinction. 

Feng, B., Liu, B., & Pan, K. (2016). “Vulture voyeur a sensor-packed egg monitors nests from the inside“.



Biodiversity, Data, Ecological Monitoring, Illegal Resource Extraction, Internet of Things, Monitoring