Technology

Meerkats streamed to YouTube using TV white space

Media captionWATCH: Rory Cellan-Jones discovers how the experiment works

The public will be able to find out what meerkats, otters and giant tortoises, housed at London Zoo, get up to when the visitors have left, thanks to new wireless technology.

London Zoo is working with UK regulator Ofcom to test so-called TV White Space (TVWS) technology.

TVWS uses gaps in the spectrum assigned for television transmissions.

Videos of the animals will be streamed to YouTube 24 hours a day.

TVWS uses sections of spectrum either left to act as a buffer between TV signals or space left behind when services went digital.

Image copyright ZSL
Image caption Meerkat fans will be able to watch the creatures 24/7

Compared with other forms of wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth and wi-fi, the radio waves can travel longer distances and also travel more easily through walls.

The trials are intended to test white space-enabled devices as well as identify what spectrum is available and the processes needed to minimise the risk of interference.

It will be used in other projects, including one led by the Oxford Flood Network, a citizen-built wireless sensor network which provides early flood warnings.

TVWS has also been earmarked as a way of providing broadband at sea.

It will be tested on ferries travelling to the Orkney Islands.

However, it has its opponents.

The British Entertainment Industry Radio Group has complained that it will pose a threat to the use of radio microphones and other wireless equipment when TV programme makers try to cover events, and could also hamper film production and conferences.

Meerkat-cam

At London Zoo, the trial dubbed, Whitespaces for Wildlife, will see cameras and radios installed in the enclosures of meerkats, giant tortoises and otters.

Footage will be wirelessly transmitted to YouTube using Google's spectrum database to ensure no interference with existing channels.

As well as allowing members of the public to check out what the animals get up to 24 hours a day, it will play a more serious role.

"Remote monitoring of wildlife is a vital conservation tool, from helping us to better understand species behaviour," said Whitespaces for Wildlife project co-ordinator Louise Hartley.

"The prototype systems at ZSL London Zoo are already demonstrating that they can transmit high definition video over long distances, confirming their invaluable potential to use wireless connectivity to transform ZSL's (Zoological Society of London) worldwide conservation work."

The technology could be used in areas of the world where poaching and illegal logging are affecting wildlife populations, she added.

Internet of things

The UK is leading Europe in the use of TVWS technology.

Philip Marnick, Ofcom's head of the Spectrum Policy Group said: "In a world where consumers' demand for data services is experiencing huge growth, it is essential we find the most efficient ways to share the airwaves."

It is expected to be commercially available in the UK from next year.

Update: This report has been amended to include details of opposition to the scheme.

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