Saturday, December 15, 2012

Google-funded drones for anti-poaching war in Africa

Google has awarded a $5 million grant to the World Wildlife Fund to use and adapt new technologies to combat animal poaching around the world. According to NBC News, the WWF has incredible plans on how to put the money to good use. One of their plans is to use the money to develop camera-equipped drones to monitor poaching in Africa. Crawford Allan, head of wildlife trade organization TRAFFIC North America is one of the WWF’s on-call experts. He told NBC News: “We needed to find other ways where we could detect and deter poachers. It’s been fairly rudimentary in places where there are very precious species to protect.” Despite efforts to stop them, poaching operations have continued to grow in both scale and sophistication. Rhinos used to be poached at a rate of 15 or 20 per year in Africa. Thanks to the high demand for rhino horn coming primarily from Asia, the number of poached Rhinos has grown to over 600 this year alone. The number of poached elephants and tigers are equally as heart-breaking. Allan continued by saying:“We could have just gone on business as usual, making small steps. But now that we have a major partner in Google, we can finally take some big steps.” Of course, part of the money has to go to much needed logistical concerns like updating laptops, buying gas for patrols, and making sure that the people on the ground are safe and well-supplied. However, the $5 milllion grant also means that the WWF can finally deploy technologies that it’s been waiting on for years. For example, the camera-equipped drones. Not fully autonomous ones, but human-piloted drones that can relay information like acoustic signals and infrared imaging to their operators and patrols on the ground in real-time. Allan said: “With the aerial vehicles, we have not selected any particular system, and we may be looking to tailor one to our needs. But we’re not going to be using a $200 hobby-shop device. We’re probably looking in the tens thousands of dollars range.” A drone like that would need to strike a balance between cost, capacity, noise, portability and many other factors. The WWF is doing initial aerial platform testing at sites in Namibia and Nepal, and is hoping to partner with interested local governments. Source: ABC News

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