Heat-seeking drone saves fawns’ lives

Swiss researchers are working on creating drones that use thermal imaging to detect fawns nestled in fields that are due to be mown by farmers.

Heat-seeking drone saves fawns' lives
Dave Dyet (File)

In an attempt to reduce the number of fawn deaths, which currently totals around 2,000 in Switzerland during harvesting season, Zurich’s technical college ETH has joined forces with the Bern University for Applied Agricultural Sciences to create a machine that can detect the animals in the long grasses.

The flying machine, equipped with thermal imaging technology to detect warm bodies, found its first fawns at the end of May, online news site Blick reported.

The fawn problem has been a cause of concern for many farmers. The young deer hide out in the long grasses and do not move when they hear danger approaching. Consequently many fawns meet a grisly end during the hay harvest.

The current commercially available imaging technology remains expensive, with a basic thermal camera costing in the region of 2,500 francs ($2,586).

Farmer Daniel Grichting told Blick he had been able to save the lives of three fawns in recent weeks with the help of a thermal camera. It can however be difficult to track the animals’ locations on flat ground, he said, adding that the apparatus enjoyed better success in hilly terrain.

The limitations of the available equipment meant the products currently in development could help save yet more lives, he said.

In Germany, ISA Industrieelektronik GmbH is working on attaching infrared cameras to so-called Oktokopters, flying drones with eight propellers.

The German Centre for Aeronautics and Aerospace meanwhile is also working on a mower with special built-in sensors that set off an alarm when they come across a warm body.

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More than 1.6 million Swiss have downloaded Covid tracing app

Since its launch on June 25th some 20 percent of Switzerland’s population have downloaded the country's Covid-19 track and trace app. But is it enough to curtail the transmission of the virus?

More than 1.6 million Swiss have downloaded Covid tracing app
Authorities hope SwissCovid app will help curb the number of Covid-19 infections. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Two weeks after its launch, the SwissCovid app has been downloaded by 1.6 million Swiss – or approximately 20 percent of the population.

On the first day of its implementation the Federal Office of Statistics had registered more than half a million users.

On Saturday June 27th, the application was activated almost 810,000 times, according to figures released by the Federal Statistical Office.

Experts say that, to be truly effective, SwissCovid app must be used by at least 60 percent of the population. They expect that more people will download the application in the coming days and weeks.

The government is hopeful that around one in five Swiss will download the app. This is much lower than the 60 percent rate which Oxford University said was necessary to ensure the app functioned effectively in society. 

Sang-Il Kim, the Head of Dept. Digital Transformation at the BAG, said that 20 percent was an optimistic goal. 

“I would be happy if 20 percent of the smartphones would use the app,” Kim said. 

Only newer phones

Approximately 20 percent – or one in five – of smartphone users cannot use the app because their phones are too old. 

Kim said that this was a rate much higher than in other countries, with Switzerland’s efforts benefitting from the country’s love of new devices. 

“We are fortunate that only 20 percent of users are technically excluded from the app. In other countries, up to 50 percent of them have smartphones that are too old.”

Users of iPhone 6 and older models cannot use the app. 

The app registers when an individual comes into contact with other people through a person’s smartphone location systems and bluetooth.

Contact is traced when one person with the app is less than two metres from another person with the app for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. 

Such contacts are recorded anonymously on both devices. 

If one of those users tests positive for the coronavirus, the person will receive a 'covid code' from the cantonal authorities.

READ MORE: Q&A: How will Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app work? 

If you have an iPhone 6 or a more recent model, or an Android 6, you can download the app for free from:

Google Play Store for Android

Apple Store for iOS

The tracing of transmission chains is crucial in curtailing the spread of coronavirus, especially as the number of cases increased in Switzerland in recent days.

The Federal Office of Public Health said that within the last week, the number of infections climbed from 18 on June 25th to 62 on Sunday. 

According to Matthias Egger, the head of the government’s Covid-19 Task Force, the spike in cases can be attributed to the recent lifting of lockdown restrictions, including the opening of borders with the EU on June 15th.