Professor Tom Snitch recently spoke with the the DC Area Drone User Group about his trip to South Africa where he ran a pilot project using drones and predictive mapping techniques to help local rangers in their fight against poachers who are targeting elephants and rhinos. The talk has been posted in a series of YouTube videos with the first one embedded above. Some key points included:
- 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers in Africa in 2012. 668 rhinos were killed just in South Africa in 2012. The current system of protection for these animals is not working.
- The parks are too large for any UAV to cover the whole area. By using predictive mapping techniques based on models of poacher behavior, the team was able to determine where to deploy the UAVs to maximize the chance they will catch poachers.
- Although some other anti-poaching projects involving drones have focused on using systems with long ranges, Dr. Snitch felt there was little point in having UAVs that could fly farther than the distance rangers can go out and respond to what they find.
- The South African government gave Dr. Snitch's team permission to operate because the system was small enough to be considered a model aircraft under South African regulation.
- US regulations forced Dr.Snitch to downgrade the autopilot system on his UAVs so they could be exported to Africa. He considered bringing a system from another country where the regulations are not as onerous, but the Falcon UAV team stepped forward to assist him with their system.
You can see the slides from Dr. Snitch's talk by clicking here.
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The link describes a Conservation UAV Challenge sponsored by Kashmir-Robotics that may be a good opportunity for a local team to demonstrate capabilities, win scholarships, and add to resumes. The requirements for a drone that is optimized for counter poaching in Africa are much more demanding than just flight and communications parameters. The drone must be able to exfiltrate data from unattended ground sensors, monitor locations of animals, and sort between park visitors and poachers. Good news in response to comments from Mr. Kronberg is that 3G is accessible at altitude throughout most of the wildlife refuges. If operating dark, aircraft will need to make autonomous decisions to return to 3G coverage regions to report actionable information. By the way, Kashmir-Robotics is a DC area company.
3g internet in jungle? i missed something..
I'm currently working on a drone that will be suitable for this project. I will only have the prototype ready at the end of the year. 8hour flight time, 3G internet login.