Un­der­sea spies snoop on oys­ter bed raiders

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Bouff, France

Elec­tronic spies come in all shapes and sizes, but none is as funny look­ing as an oys­ter im­per­son­ator called the Flex Spy now in­fil­trat­ing the wa­ters off west­ern France.

Look­ing for all the world like the bi­valves it is pro­tect­ing, the plas­tic im­poster is fit­ted with a cir­cuit board that al­lows it to snitch on thieves.

In­vented by French startup Flex-Sense, the de­vice has been on the mar­ket since Septem­ber.

Af­ter the first pro­to­types were tested in Viet­nam, the gad­gets are now mak­ing their ap­pear­ance in the oys­ter beds off France’s At­lantic coast, with a ma­jor de­ploy­ment planned in Fe­bru­ary.

Sev­eral dozen tons of oys­ters are stolen each year out of France’s to­tal pro­duc­tion of 100,000 tons.

“It may not be a big pro­por­tion, but it is a lot for the op­er­a­tor who is robbed” af­ter see­ing much of his pro­duc­tion wiped out by a mys­tery dis­ease for the past sev­eral years, said oys­ter farmer Ger­ald Vi­aud, pres­i­dent of the na­tional shell­fish farm­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion.

Theft is a “real prob­lem” in the sec­tor, which is “al­ways on the look­out for so­lu­tions”, from sur­veil­lance cam­eras to ground, sea and air pa­trols, he said.

One quirkier ap­proach is to fill an oys­ter shell with ce­ment stamped with the farmer’s phone num­ber in the hope that a ven­dor who finds it among stolen oys­ters will con­tact the vic­tim.

En­ter Flex-Sense, which was founded some 18 months ago spe­cial­iz­ing in wire­less teleme­try in com­plex en­vi­ron­ments.

Ini­tially it was in­ter­ested in of­fer­ing shell­fish farm­ers a way to mon­i­tor wa­ter tem­per­a­ture, salin­ity and oxy­gen con­cen­tra­tion from a dis­tance to en­able them to limit the mor­tal­ity rates of their mus­sels and oys­ters.

But cus­tomers were also in­ter­ested in ways to pre­vent thefts, which spike ahead of the hol­i­day sea­son.

Af­ter months of devel­op­ment, the elec­tronic oys­ter was hatched.

The elec­tronic spy kicks into ac­tion if it de­tects sus­pi­cious move­ment, trans­mit­ting an alert to the oys­ter farmer’s phone or com­puter.

The user can then track the oys­ters’ move­ments for up to a week.

It is too early to judge the de­vice’s ef­fec­tive­ness, how­ever, since no thieves have yet been caught.

The com­pany wants to go on to adapt the de­vice for use in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, said Syl­vain Dar­denne, co-founder and com­mer­cial di­rec­tor of Flex-Sense.

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