Researchers have developed a technique to protect bonsai trees from thieves
a microchip is helping people in Japan to deal with a crime wave that has hit the ancient Japanese art of bonsai. Bonsai is a Japanese practice of cultivating artificially dwarfed plants or small trees. Thieves have been stealing beautiful miniature trees that are very costly and take many years to grow. Growers and collectors are now electronically tagging the trees to provide them a security net (Spectrum , September/October 1997).
The method was first devised by scientists at the Datalog of Weybridge, Surrey, uk. The researchers initially developed the technology to guard motorcycles. Now, a bonsai enthusiast Martin Unwin has brought about some modifications in the technique to make it appropriate for protecting the trees. He is setting up the first nation-wide computer register of tagged bonsai trees. The minute tags are similar to a small carpet tack.
Datatag transponders are a passive radio frequency identification device. They do not contain any internal power source and can send an identification code when interrogated by a special scanning. The transponder or 'tag' contains a microprocessor circuit linked to a read/send antenna, and each microprocessor is pre-programmed with a 10-character alphanumeric code that offers a choice of 500 billion code combinations. A sophisticated laser-etched process is used to carry out the programming. This ensures that the code cannot be altered or deleted by electrical or magnetic devices, or by exposure to low-level radiation.
The bonsai tree is tagged by injecting the tiny transponder into the trunk of the tree. The researcher uses a few basic tools -- a drill or screwdriver -- and then surgically seals the wound. The tree grows over the device hiding it effectively. Unless the tag is activated by a signal from a dedicated detector or scanner passing near, it will remain passive. If a person wants to sell his tree, he will have to merely reveal the unique identification serial number to the buyer.
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