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Snotbots and Polar Bear Heat Signatures: Intel Drones Support Conservation Efforts in Two New Expeditions

BY Zacc Dukowitz
4 October 2017

Today is World Animal Day, and therefore an appropriate day for Intel to release news about two recent scientific expeditions that were conducted with drones serving as a primary resource for scientists and conservationists.

In today’s press release, Intel emphasized that both their drone the Falcon 8+ and their Artificial Intelligence software—showcased recently in one of the major keynotes at InterDrone —were instrumental to supporting these two expeditions.

Which makes sense. Drones collect raw data, and AI helps process that data into actionable insights. In combination, drones and AI can provide powerful tools for doing good in the world.

Arctic Polar Bear Expedition

For their expedition to the Arctic to track and document polar bears, Intel teamed up with renowned wildlife photographer and conservationist Ole Jørgen Liodden.

Given how dangerous they are and the vast areas they cover, the ideal method for tracking polar bears is from the air, but traditional methods involving helicopters are loud, invasive, and cost-prohibitive.

Even with the use of drones, the steel found in most boats can cause magnetic fields, which can potentially confuse drone compasses, making it difficult to take off and land on a moving boat.

The primary motive for the expedition was to capture information on polar bear behavior patterns at this moment in time. As mentioned in the video above, the plight of polar bears today can help us understand where we as humans might be headed.

Tracking the polar bears’ behavior, breeding, feeding, and migration habits helps scientists not only understand the effects of climate change on the Arctic, but also the health of the entire planet.

Image source

The expedition found that polar bears did not show any signs of distress or changes in behavior when drones were flown approximately 150 to 325 feet from the animals, which is great news for conservation efforts. The less invasive the manner of collecting data, the better, both for collecting more accurate information and for making sure not to molest the animals being studied.

Polar bears are a symbol of the Arctic. If they become extinct, there will be challenges with our entire ecosystem. Drone technology can hopefully help us get ahead of these challenges to better understand our world and preserve the earth’s environment.

– Ole Jørgen Liodden

Even with an aerial view, spotting a white polar bear against the white snow can be almost impossible.

Image source

But using aerial thermography on this expedition, the bears could be easily spotted against the cold background.

This technology opens up new possibilities and research opportunities, since finding polar bears can now be done in a much quicker, more efficient manner, which in turn opens up new possible approaches for the way polar bears might be studied.

Whale Exploration

Back in June we wrote about the Snotbot being sent to the U.N. The Snotbot is back in the news now, through their collaboration with Intel and with Parley for the Oceans.

The Snotbot is a drone that helps whale researchers study their subjects by hovering over them and collecting their snot—which might sound gross, but it’s important work that helps us better understand whales and the environment in which they live.

Image source

It’s impressive to note that now, with the use of AI from Intel, the Snotbot is getting smarter and smarter.

Project SnotBot uses Intel’s machine learning technology to help the Ocean Alliance improve data analysis by running algorithms that can identify a particular whale and assess its health in real time, regardless of the presence of confounding factors, such as the whale’s unpredictable movements and limited ocean visibility.

So far, the SnotBot has been used to collect spout water from blue whales, right whales, gray whales, humpbacks, and orcas in oceans around the world.

AI is giving whales a voice to share the health of our oceans and the environment. Using AI technology, researchers can make more timely decisions in the field and better understand the rich biological data that whale snot holds, including DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, viruses, bacteria, and toxins.

Our vision is to create a global network of digital exploration tools which generate the big data we need to identify threats with new speed and precision, so we can act on them instantly.

– Cyrill Gutsch, Parley for the Oceans founder

Closing Remarks

Regarding these two drone-supported expeditions Anil Nanduri, the head of Intel’s drone division, told UAV Coach:

From this expedition, we’ve learned that drones, like the Intel Falcon 8+, can be a way to put sensors out into the environment that are less intrusive and less expensive than manned equipment like helicopters, yet still able to reach locations that would be difficult for a researcher to get to on foot.  They are very capable platforms that can be used for novel applications beyond just the commercial roles that they were designed for.

– Anil Nanduri, Head of the Drone Group at Intel

Read our recent interview with Anil on Intel’s light show drones, and the vast creative potential they represent.

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