AI-Enabled Drones Protect Animals and Save Lives

Drones with integrated cameras, machine learning analysis, and low-latency live streaming are protecting Australia’s beachgoers from shark attacks and crocodile encounters. The same technology enables rescue efforts for swimmers and surfers in distress, while providing information about marine life and habitats.

 

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Image credit: Ripper Corp.

Understanding the behavior of wild animals aids researchers in their conservation efforts. Protecting endangered species is hard to accomplish if those animals can’t be located or identified. Some conservationists go into the wild to seek out these beasts, but that can put both the animals and the humans in danger.

Advances in drone technology make them a more appealing option to find and monitor wild animals. Drones are a more economical and efficient data collection method than sending humans into the field or using stationary in-field cameras. 

Drones don’t disturb or cause harm to the animals, and they don’t expose humans to disease. Drones also cover more area than a human researcher, they can hover near hard-to-access places, and they can adjust their paths on the fly. With advanced artificial intelligence, they are more skilled at identifying their subjects as well.

View From Above

Researchers Down Under are using AI-enabled drones to study marine life. A team of engineers at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) partnered with drone manufacturer Ripper Corp. and Amazon Web Services to develop CrocSpotter AI. The Westpac Little Ripper drone is integrated with a video camera and AI algorithms from UTS that can identify 16 types of marine life in less than one second with 93 percent accuracy.

The CrocSpotter solution focuses on identifying crocodiles hidden among the mangroves in Queensland’s dense rainforest regions. The CrocSpotter system analyzes streaming video from the drone and classifies images in real-time. When it detects a crocodile, the CrocSpotter sends an audible alert to the drone operator and highlights its location in a flashing red box on the computer screen.

The technology allows researchers to monitor the crocs’ feeding and mating behaviors and to discover their habitats and hangouts. It is able to detect the animals even in muddy and murky waters. Running the CrocSpotter algorithms through AWS reduced the latency from as high as 30 seconds to less than one second, according to Ben Trollope, CEO of The Ripper Group.

Saving Lives, One Drone at a Time

In addition to gathering information about crocodile behavior, the CrocSpotter drones are used in life saving operations. If the crocs move toward beaches or other areas with humans, the drone will alert authorities. 

The CrocSpotter technology stems from a previous UTS project that resulted in SharkSpotter, an AI-powered, drone-based technology that identifies and tracks sharks. It was developed to keep wildlife safe and to protect beachgoers and surfers from shark attacks. The group’s DistressSpotter solution uses similar technology to identify swimmers and surfers in distress, so authorities can initiate rescue operations.

Highlighted squares show where sharks are in water

Image credit: UTS

The Little Ripper drones are part of Australia’s broader life saving operations. Sponsored by Westpac Bank, the Ripper Group first developed remotely piloted aircraft for search-and-rescue missions as part of Australia’s Surf Life Saving Queensland operation. 

The first drone, the Little Ripper Lifesaver, was initially used to save two teenage boys surfing in dangerous waters. The drone dropped a “rescue pod” to the boys in what is considered to be the first drone-based ocean rescue. The Little Ripper Lifesaver is designed with a customizable payload to support various types of rescue operations.

 

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