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Panasonic FZ-A1 tablets have been selected by the UNITED NATIONS as an essential element for the success of the innovative Desert Locust Watch project, which monitors environmental conditions and prevents locust infestations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East

375 Panasonic FZ-A1 Toughpad tablets at the side of FAO to fight against locusts

For thousands of years, the desert locust – a migratory insect similar to a grasshopper – has been a genuine threat for hundreds of millions of people: it destroys crops, causing distress for inhabitants, producers, and ecosystems. During quiet periods, called recessions, desert locusts live a solitary life in the dry and semi-dry areas of Africa, the Middle East and southwest Asia; in specific weather conditions, the reproduction process can virally spread, creating enormous swarms that can contain 40 million insects per km². Swarms move extremely fast and can affect an area of around 32 million km² and threaten some 60 countries on 20% of the world’s total land surface and cause considerable damage to crops. A swarm the size of 10 km² can consume in a single day the same amount of food as 350,000 people.

To fight and prevent this plague, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) established the Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) for the daily monitoring of environmental conditions and locust infestations on a global level. DLIS has been doing this task since 1975 by providing updated forecasts and alerts to those countries at risk of a locust invasion. In the last few years, thanks to the satellite mapping of the wide territories affected and to the development of suitable tools to work in extreme environmental conditions, noticeable steps forward have been made in early warning of locust plagues.

Today, the monitoring activity of the DLIS is based on the eLocust system, which was implemented for the first time in 2000 and later evolved in eLocust2 (2005) and eLocust3 (2014). “The software, which is highly intuitive, is installed on Panasonic Toughpad FZ-A1 tablets, distributed to local field officers in the locust-affected countries” says Mauro Cofelice, Key Account Manager Panasonic Toughbook and Toughpad. “Through a satellite network, FZ-A1 tablets are connected to national control centres and to DLIS in Rome, which coordinates and sends teams to those areas where there’s a high potential of important locust activity. First of all, officers use tablets as an advanced navigation tool. Conditions are extreme: the areas are remote with no roads, and the diurnal temperature variation is above 40C degrees. Once on the spot, officers use the devices as an observation, cataloguing, and communication tool. According to their surveys, control centres decide whether to send ground or aerial teams to treat the locust infestations before they can spread and wreck havoc.”

FAO chose Panasonic as a technological partner for eLocust3 thanks to its reliability and quality guarantees, as well as for the resistance features of its products. Panasonic provided the project with 375 rugged FZ-A1 Android™-powered tablets, designed specifically for mobile and field use, which have been distributed by FAO to 22 frontline countries from summer 2014.

Cofelice declares: “The added value of the Toughpad FZ-A1 consists in its toughness and legendary reliability, as well as in the readability of the display, even in strong sunlight conditions, and in the multiple connection and data transmission possibilities.”

The Toughpad FZ-A1 has a MIL-STD-810G rating for 120cm drops as well as an IP65 ingress protection rating for resistance to dust and water. The Toughpad FZ-A1 is also rated for use in extreme temperatures, and has a high brightness, 10.1” capacitive multi-touch, daylight-viewable screen with an anti-reflection/glare coating. It is equipped with a rechargeable battery, USB port, external memory, integrated GPS, and camera.

These are all features and advantages that FAO appreciated as well, as Keith Cressman, Senior Locust Forecasting Officer, confirms: “Panasonic Toughpad tablets turned out to be amazing products, robust and reliable, able to respond to all our needs and guarantee a better user experience and longer operational life.”

FAO chose Panasonic products after a long period spent field-testing many devices from other manufacturers. Two other important elements were key in this decision: Panasonic can guarantee worldwide support and technical expertise, which allowed other companies involved in the project to develop ad hoc softwares and satellite communication solutions.

The eLocust3 application installed on Panasonic tablets consists of software developed by Novacom (France) for recording field observations and transmitting data by satellite. The application, available in three working languages (English, French, and Arabic), can also take geo-referenced pictures. It uses Bluetooth technology and the latest-generation INMARSAT satellites.

eLocust3 includes an unique application, called eLocust3D, to help field teams identify areas where locusts may be present in the desert. This application has been developed and donated to FAO by Trilogis Srl, a company based in Trentino-Alto Adige and specialised in geographic information systems.

Satellite-derived maps showing rainfall and green vegetation processed by the University of Columbia in New York are automatically uploaded on the Toughpad FZ-A1 tablets, Locust field officers use the latest imagery, combined with their GPS position in the desert and a 3D morphological view to easily identify the areas where they may find locusts. Once they reach these places, they can report their observations by completing a form and sending the data via satellite to the national centre and to DLIS in Rome in a matter of minutes so that the need for intervention can be assessed and control teams can be dispatched. The eLocust3D application received an award from NASA at the “World Wind Europe Challenge” in 2014.

“The great advantage of the eLocust3D application consists in the awareness of on-site officers, thanks to the cartographic data they have at their disposal. These data allow them to move in a targeted way, heading directly to those areas where they are more likely to find locusts. All of this allows substantial savings in time and resources, and increases the effectiveness of the survey operations” says Giuseppe Conti, Trilogis Srl CTO and Project Manager.

The partnership led to invaluable advantages for FAO, as Cressman says: “The data recorded and transmitted by eLocust3 are the basis of the preventive control strategy adopted by FAO and locust-affected countries to fight desert locusts and to reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of plagues. The use of eLocust3 will undoubtedly lead to an improvement in the monitoring system, in control operations, and in early warning, thereby protecting crops and guaranteeing food security and livelihoods in Africa and Asia in our fight against desert locust and world hunger.”