Fin­nish phone app finds rein­deer, avoids road kill

‘So now we know to be cau­tious and look more care­fully’

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

RO­VANIEMI, Fin­land: There’s good news for Ru­dolph and his friends - an app is help­ing of­fi­cials re­duce the num­ber of rein­deer killed in traf­fic ac­ci­dents in Fin­land. Some 300,000 rein­deer freely wan­der the wilds of La­p­land in Arc­tic Fin­land. An es­ti­mated 4,000 are killed ev­ery year through road ac­ci­dents, of­fi­cials say, and com­pen­sa­tion to rein­deer herders can be ex­pen­sive. Most of the ac­ci­dents oc­cur dur­ing the dark win­ter months when the an­i­mals are hard to spot. Sev­eral meth­ods to cut road kill have failed, in­clud­ing spray-paint­ing antlers with flu­o­res­cent col­ors, hang­ing re­flec­tors on rein­deer necks and us­ing mov­able traf­fic signs to warn of rein­deer as they wan­der through the lichen-cov­ered fells.

In their lat­est at­tempt, of­fi­cials are us­ing a smart­phone app called “Porokello,” Fin­nish for “Rein­deer Bell.” And it seems to be work­ing - at least last month, when there were 300 less rein­deer ac­ci­dents on the roads of Fin­nish La­p­land com­pared to the same month in 2015. Ac­cord­ing to Jaakko Yli­nampa, head of a lo­cal busi­ness cen­ter in Ro­vaniemi, the big­gest town in La­p­land near the Arc­tic Cir­cle, the app helps cut costs for herders. A sim­ple, one-but­ton in­ter­face al­lows driv­ers to tap their smart­phone screens to regis­ter any rein­deer spot­ted near roads. Us­ing GPS tech­nol­ogy, it cre­ates a 1.5kilo­me­ter (1-mile) warn­ing zone that lasts for an hour and warns other app users ap­proach­ing the area.

“If there are rein­deer, (driv­ers) re­duce speed,” Yli­nampa said. “When they have passed the warn­ing place, then they can get back to the nor­mal speed again.” Rein­deer of­ten wan­der onto roads that cut across graz­ing grounds rather than plow­ing through the deep snow, said Anna-Leena Jankala, whose fam­ily has a rein­deer farm in Narkaus, 40 kilo­me­ters (25 miles) south of Ro­vaniemi. When fe­male rein­deer are killed, it can be par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing to herders, set­ting them back years de­spite govern­ment com­pen­sa­tion.

“In prac­tice, it’s not pos­si­ble to buy a sim­i­lar rein­deer, you need to raise it,” Jankala said. It’s hard to gauge the suc­cess of the pilot project that started in June with 1,000 free, app-loaded smart­phones de­liv­ered to pro­fes­sional driv­ers, in­clud­ing heavy ve­hi­cles, taxis and buses, but those us­ing it at least have a good warn­ing sys­tem, says Maria Timo-Huh­tala, who helped de­velop the app. Driv­ing along an icy Lap­pish road, she looks checks her phone when a warn­ing alerts her.

“We know that we are in the area where rein­deer (have) been seen in the past one hour,” she said. “So now we know to be cau­tious and look more care­fully.” This time the rein­deer, which are bred for their meat, milk and fur, have moved on. Timo-Huh­tala em­pha­sizes that driv­ers shouldn’t be­come too re­liant on the app. “It’s im­por­tant for the driv­ers to un­der­stand that there might a rein­deer even if there is not a warn­ing,” Timo-Huh­tala said. “We have quite well cov­ered the roads in La­p­land with the sys­tem, but it’s still not 100 per­cent.”—AP

FIN­LAND: In this photo, rein­deers walk across the road in Suo­mus­salmi, Fin­land. —AP

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