CyberTracker on Arctic Expedition

The unique icon interface made CyberTracker the ideal data capture tool in the harsh weather conditions of an Arctic research expedition.

The staff members of the German mobile computing magazine Palmtop-Pro were asked by a group of scientists to suggest the most efficient data collecting tools for their trip to the Arctic.

The magazine proposed the Palm platform together with a handful of top Palm programs for the research expedition, including CyberTracker.

The expedition took place in June 2001 aboard the Polarstern, a large-scale floating laboratory considered to be the most important tool in Germany’s polar research programme.

Boris von Luhovoy, publishing editor of Palmtop-Pro Magazine explained that: “We turned for data entering and management to very special freeware software, CyberTracker, developed for African national park troopers and Bushmen, enabling virtually illiterate people entering the most complex data by only typing on an icon. This seemed to us perfect also for university professors then.”

Benefits of Icon Interface

“CyberTracker software enables anybody, no matter which nationality, literate or illiterate, to enter and manage even the most complex data, including automatic GPS data attachments to the data itself. “The Icon approach also helps a lot if you have a multi-language research team to service with a Palm. “In heavy gear with three thick gloves worn in a ice storm, dragging a sledge on a stiff towel and watching for hungry polar bears, a keyboard is unpractical… the icon approach is the only practical and simple solution given the environment.” The Palmtop-pro consultants to the expedition were familiar with the software, having run a multi-part workshop on CyberTracker in their magazine. “On a expedition out of reach from any outside help you have to rely on working solutions which are proven and have
a perfect history.”

Modifications for Arctic Conditions

To enable the scientists to use the handhelds in the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic environment, Palmtop-Pro consultants disassembled each of the devices and filled the interiors with special polymer fibres that can withstand 90 degrees (celsius) below zero, and also fitted an electrical and computer controlled heating inseam in a watertight “OtterBox” PDA case.

The Polarstern

The Polarstern is equipped for biological, geological, geophysical, glaciological, chemical, oceanographic and meteorological research and houses nine research laboratories. It spends almost 320 days a year at sea and has completed more than 25 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic since it was first commissioned in 1982. The ship has at most a crew of 44 and offers work facilities for an additional 50 scientists and technicians.

Reference: “Scientists To Use Palms on Arctic Expedition,”, May 15, 2001.

For more information see: Reference: “Scientists To Use Palms on Arctic Expedition,”, May 15, 2001.

CyberTracker Used for Ground Truthing of Satellite Images

CyberTracker field observations gathered in Central African rain forests have been used for satellite image geo-referencing and interpretation and for map validation at a level of detail never achieved before.

A large-scale project initiated by the European Commission in the early 1990’s, the TREES (Tropical Ecosystem Environment observations by Satellite) project is dedicated to the development of techniques for global tropical forest inventory using satellite imagery.

CT_TreesOne of the objectives was to create maps to document the extent of dense tropical forest on a continental scale. Mapping dense humid forest, fragmented forest and non-forest make it possible to identify deforestation hot spots.

Reliable analysis of satellite radar images is limited by a lack of appropriate field observations. In particular, the useful parameters for radar signal modeling are quite specific and are not available in the ecological literature.

To solve this problem it was decided to collect a series of parameters about the different types of forests, such as open forest, closed forest, or swamp forest.


To achieve this TREES worked in collaboration with ECOFAC, also funded by the European Commission.

Field patrols conducted in the Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo, used CyberTracker to collect geo-referenced field data. An exhaustive list of different types of vegetation was integrated into the Odzala CyberTracker data capture screen sequence.


Field observations collected by CyberTracker were transferred into an MS Access relational database and integrated in an ArcView Geographic Information System for spatial analysis.

High-resolution satellite images of Odzala National Park vegetation overlaid with CyberTracker observations (coloured dots).

The field observations collected by CyberTracker improved the image geo-referencing, interpretation and map validation at a level never achieved before.

Discrepancy between the TREES map and the CyberTracker observations made it possible to make important corrections to the interpretation of the remote sensing data.

Further Reading

Exploring the synergy between environmental geo-referenced field data and remote sensing spatial information in Central Africa. by Pascale Janvier, Philippe Mayaux, 2002.

First CyberTracker Project in Karoo National Park

In September 1996 the first prototype of the CyberTracker was tested in the Karoo National Park, South Africa. Karel Benadie (photo) was the first tracker to use the CyberTracker and played an integral role in the design of the user interface.

Although they cannot read or write, Karel Benadie and James Minye used the CyberTracker to record their observations in the field and download the data onto the PC by themselves. They demonstrated that they were able to use the computer independently.

The main objective of the project was to monitor the highly endangered Desert Black Rhino. The data they collected were very detailed. For example, shifts in rhino feeding behaviour could be seen every two months, shifting from the rainy season through to the dry season. Benadie and Minye have published their first article (co-authored with Louis Liebenberg and Lindsay Steventon), on “Rhino Tracking with the CyberTracker Field Computer”(see below).

In addition they recorded tracks of rare or nocturnal species that were not normally monitored. They recorded virtually everything in the veld that they found interesting. This type of data may make it possible to monitor long term trends that would not otherwise be noticed at all.

Field tests indicated that a tracker can generate more than 100 observations in one day. One computer could therefore generate more than 20 000 observations in a year.

CyberTracker data shows impact of Ebola on Lowland Gorillas

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa have resulted in huge cost in human lives and economic losses. Even the indirect economic impact on Africa as a whole has been huge as tourists have cancelled visits to Africa due to the fear of Ebola. In future it may be more cost-effective to monitor signs of potential outbreaks of Ebola among wildlife, especially along trade routes that may spread Ebola to highly populated areas.

The BBC reports that Bill Gates says “surveillance systems” are needed to spot the signs of a disease outbreak earlier and prevent crises like the Ebola situation in West Africa. See BBC Report here.

A cost-effective solution may include forest patrols especially along trade routes that could introduce Ebola via bush meat to high population areas. As indicated by the attached images, Ebola may be introduced to humans via the consumption of Duiker and Bush Pig. Using CyberTracker to monitor the tracks & signs of Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Duiker and Bush Pig may indicate potential outbreaks of Ebola even before it infects human populations.

Data collected from 2000 to 2003 by trackers working for the ECOFAC programme and using the CyberTracker have showed up the extent of the Lowland Gorilla mortality due to Ebola in the Lossi Sanctuary, Republic of Congo.

Wild animal outbreaks began before each of the 5 human Ebola outbreaks. Twice we alerted the health authorities to an imminent risk for human outbreaks, weeks before they occurred.

This information has been confirmed by the Spanish primatologist, Dr Magdalena Bermejo, who has studied the gorillas in Lossi for ten years, and by the veterinaries of the International Medical Research Center of Franceville (CIRMF).

All the eight families (139 individuals) followed by Dr Bermejo since 1994 have now disappeared from the study area (40 km2). Two of these families were habituated to human presence. This habituation was not only a first with lowland gorillas but also was a first sight tourism experience in association with villages.

The CIRMF veterinaries have been able to collect a lot of samples and to confirm the presence of the virus in Chimpanzees and Gorillas. And, carcasses from other species have been found in the same area. Abundance indications collected on other species by the trackers, such as Duiker and Bush Pig, (see table) indicates that these species were also infected by Ebola.

Ebola, like other emerging diseases, remains a critical area of study to be explored not only to understand large primate dynamics and for their conservation, but for its potential impact on humans.

Cybertracker Conservation