Un­der­sea elec­tronic spies to nab oys­ter bed raiders

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

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 start-up 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 (un­der­cover) 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.

‘You have to in­no­vate’

In­fil­trated into an oys­ter bed, the wa­ter­proof, pres­sure-re­sis­tant Flex Spy is equipped with an an­tenna, a sim­ple mo­tion de­tec­tor, a buzzer and a fre­quency mod­u­la­tor, said Syl­vain Dar­denne, co-founder and com­mer­cial di­rec­tor of Flex-Sense. The user pulls out a pin­think hand grenade-be­fore set­ting the en­er­gy­ef­fi­cient de­vice among the oys­ters. 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.

If left to “sleep” with­out the need to re­port in­trud­ers, the Flex Spy can lurk in its wa­tery field of op­er­a­tions for 60 months with no need for recharg­ing-more than 20 times more than any geo tracker, notes Dar­denne. “Since you can’t mon­i­tor the en­tire shore­line, you have to in­no­vate,” Vi­aud said. “The elec­tronic oys­ter may not be the ideal so­lu­tion, but it’s a step in the right di­rec­tion.” It is too early to judge the de­vice’s ef­fec­tive­ness, how­ever, since no thieves have yet been caught. So far FlexSense claims around 50 clients who pay 10 Euros (dol­lars) a month for each Flex Spy, Dar­denne said. The com­pany wants to go on to adapt the de­vice for use in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, he added.

—AFP

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

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