Drones locate fuzzy friends in Australian koala-spotting mission

koala spotting drones 32220932387 1e52b8df11 z
Queensland University of Technology

Australia faces a challenge in monitoring and managing its koala population: no one is quite certain how many koalas there actually are. The traditional approach to population monitoring has been for experts to go out into the field and manually count the animals they see in a given area, but this is both expensive and time-consuming, and not very reliable — even the most eagle-eyed spotter can miss an animal or count the same animal twice.

Now researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have found a faster and more reliable way to count koalas by using drones equipped with infrared imaging technology. The drones detect heat signatures and use an algorithm to hone in on areas where koalas congregate, then can count the animals even through the foliage of the eucalyptus trees they live in.

koala spotting drones 32220932417 f818797fbe z
QUT study shows how drones can be the most reliable method for spotting koalas. Queensland University of Technology

The reason that counting koalas is such a challenge is because they live in dense wooded areas, unlike the beaches or open savanna which have been the focus of most animal detection systems.  “A seal on a beach is a very different thing to a koala in a tree,” Dr Grant Hamilton, from QUT’s School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences, said in a statement. “This is not just somebody counting animals with a drone, we’ve managed to do it in a very complex environment.”

The researchers verified that the technique was effective by testing it on a group of tracked radio-collared koalas in Petrie, Queensland. They checked that the data from the drones accorded with the data from ground surveys using the radio collars and discovered the drone system was more accurate and precise than manual spotting.

“On average, an expert koala spotter is going to get about 70 percent of koalas in a particular area,” Dr Hamilton said. “We, on average, get around 86 percent … Nobody else has really managed to get good results anywhere in the world in a habitat this complex and in these kinds of numbers.”

The researchers found the drone system to be most effective early in the morning and during the winter months, when the difference in heat signatures between the warm koalas and the cold environment was greatest. The drone used what is called a “lawnmower” pattern, which sweeps up and down in stripes to ensure every part of a given area is covered.

koala spotting drones news image 1
Queensland University of Technology

The team doesn’t think drones will replace human spotters, but will complement them instead. The biggest advantage of the drone method is its speed: “We cover in a couple of hours what it would take a human all day to do,” Dr Hamilton said.

The results are published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Rooting your Android device is risky. Do it right with our handy guide

Wondering whether to root your Android smartphone or stick with stock Android? Perhaps you’ve decided to do it and you just need to know how? Here, you'll find an explanation and a quick guide on how to root Android devices.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Emerging Tech

Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase a range of its advanced technologies. Toyota and Panasonic are already getting in on the act, recently unveiling several robotic designs that they intend to deploy at the event.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.