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Aerial drones to help protect endangered species of rhino

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January 14, 2014

Endangered White Rhinos such as these could soon be getting some protection from an aerial...

Endangered White Rhinos such as these could soon be getting some protection from an aerial drone (Photo: Shutterstock)

Aerial drones, whether they be dropping bombs, books or burritos, have attracted a certain degree of controversy in recent times. While the potential of the technology is plain to see, many aren't convinced that the benefits will outweigh the risks associated with unmanned vehicles zipping about in the sky above. With its recent field testing of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to protect an ailing rhino population, Airware are determined to help the industry shed some of these negative connotations.

Airware is a California-based company that specializes in the development of autopilots for unmanned aircraft systems. It recently teamed up with the Oj Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya to test a drone equipped with Airware's autopilot platform and control software that will allow it to act as both a deterrent and surveillance tool. The system uses fixed and gimbal-mounted cameras to deliver real-time digital video and thermal images to rangers on the ground, enabling them to deploy a security team in the event of an incident.

During the project, the team ran tests with both flying-wing and fixed-wing vehicles, used bungee and wheeled launches, along with parachute and wheeled landings. With the rangers able to configure flight plans using Airware's mapping interface and carry out flights autonomously from launch to recovery, the exercise went better than anticipated and has the Conservancy excited by the possibilities.

"The Airware control system is outstanding. It is so easy when something like this works, to take it for granted," said Robert Breare, Commercial Director of Ol Pejeta. "This over-delivered on my expectations in terms of both simplicity of use and sophistication of capabilities."

According to its website, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to 96 Black Rhinos, 11 Southern White Rhinos and four Northern White Rhinos, the populations of which are all under severe threat from poaching. Monitoring the well-being of these species at present involves laborious and time-consuming patrols by car or foot, a process which accounts for the majority of the Conservancy's budget and personnel.

In developing a drone specifically designed to execute this task, Airware says Ol Pejeta's monitoring of the animals will yield greater and more reliable data at a much lower cost, a development that could go a long way to preserving the endangered animal.

"It surpassed all of our expectations, said Airware CEO Jonathan Downey. "We still have more development to do but we're extremely encouraged and quite proud to be pioneering drones that can preserve some of our planet's most threatened species."

The following video shows the Airware team testing the drone.

Sources: Airware, Oj Peteja Conservancy

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. He now writes for Gizmag, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, Melbourne's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches.   All articles by Nick Lavars
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10 Comments

Okay, this is cool.

MattII
14th January, 2014 @ 10:46 pm PST

Poaching for me is up there with organ trafficking and slave trading.

Use the drones like they were intended:

1. Identify target

2. Lock on center of mass

3. Fire

Nairda
14th January, 2014 @ 10:51 pm PST

We need to target the markets that buy the crap poachers sell and educate them properly as to why rhino horn doesn't have any medicinal properties (it's the same stuff as hair, fingernails, and skin), as well as placebic and nocebic effects which would explain the positive and/or negative effects they felt from products which use it.

We can't drop bombs on poachers, because that would make us no better than them. We can, however, use drones to beat them to the punch, contaminating rhino horns with anything that would make poachers realize they're worthless (dye it red and inject an emetic into it, for example), or just preemptively tranquilize and cut off their horns without killing them, as some groups are trying.

Hopefully within 50 years, poaching will be a thing of the past. Until then, we gotta do everything we possibly can short of something as barbaric as dropping bombs.

Joel Detrow
15th January, 2014 @ 12:56 am PST

We just published a scientific article in PLOS ONE about the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems as a rhinoceros anti-poaching tool in Africa.

Considering that it might be of your interest, we copy below the link for downloading the whole text of the paper.

http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083873

Margarita Mulero‐Pázmány, Roel Stolper, LD van Essen, Juan J. Negro, Tyrell Sassen. Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems as a rhinoceros anti-poaching tool in Africa. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083873

mara
15th January, 2014 @ 04:55 am PST

Positive use of drones!

Kim Patrick
15th January, 2014 @ 08:15 am PST

Joel, apparently a poacher will still kill a "de-horned" rhino to get the horn stump! Why not flood the market with synthetic rhino horn, thus dropping the price to zilch per tonne and there is no longer a financial incentive to kill rhino?

Techtwit
15th January, 2014 @ 08:28 am PST

These drones are small and only suited for surveillance, a job at which they excel! Adding any useful weapon requires a far more robust platform and a far higher price tag. I do however like the idea of spattering these guys across the landscape and, as has been the practice at some preserves, leaving the bodies for recycling in situ. The problem lies at the consumer end of the chain. Overwhelmingly the customers are Chinese. They regard these horns and elephant ivory as well, as their cultural birthright. Dropping traffickers and poachers is the least expense solution.

Not nice but effective.

StWils
15th January, 2014 @ 11:58 am PST

I agree with the "give the uneducated an education" comment but there are a more than a few problem's associated with that. You can't really educate someone who doesn't care to be or if they hold dogmatic views. Not easily altered. If it's a fad purchase an education won't help at all. It also takes time to educate. Even if one cares to be. Time is running out for these mammals. Sure, I think we should make that effort to alter the market demand but while that is being done, drone's & volunteer's seem to be the perfect or point in time solution.

noteugene
15th January, 2014 @ 07:08 pm PST

Great civic uses for surveillance technology

Ricky Hall
15th January, 2014 @ 09:59 pm PST

a great use of this technology. May we snuff out poaching sooner than later.

turbolove
29th January, 2014 @ 09:01 am PST
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