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What Drone Surveillance Needs to Truly Stop Wildlife Extinction

What Drone Surveillance Needs to Truly Stop Wildlife Extinction

Conservationists have recently considered the use of drone surveillance to help protect wildlife from the incursions of poachers into protected areas. Bathawk Recon recently tested their UAVs in a Tanzanian wildlife reserve to great effect, and the US Air Force Academy is also developing an anti-poaching solution using UAVs. Air Shepherd is also using UAVs

Conservationists have recently considered the use of drone surveillance to help protect wildlife from the incursions of poachers into protected areas. Bathawk Recon recently tested their UAVs in a Tanzanian wildlife reserve to great effect, and the US Air Force Academy is also developing an anti-poaching solution using UAVs. Air Shepherd is also using UAVs to stop elephant poaching in Africa.

However, there are certain limitations to surveillance UAVs – concerns which need to be addressed for the drones to be effective.

The prime concern with drone surveillance is that it is noisy and alerts the poachers to its existence (and can disturb the wildlife as well). Here are a couple of ways to overcome these challenges:

  • Battery Operated for Noise Reduction: The problem can be tackled by switching drones to batteries when needed in stealth mode. Switching to batteries would shut down the noisy gears and the propellers can be ducted, resulting in less noise from the moving parts and the vortices. However, the noise created by the propellers still remains when being powered by batteries. IARPA is currently developing such an ultra-silent owl-shaped drone for surveillance purposes, which will be able to run up to half an hour in stealth mode and could prove to be an excellent solution in this regard.
  • Blade-Vortex Interaction Noise Reduction: Reducing the blade-vortex interaction can be a viable solution to reduce the operating noise of surveillance UAVs as this would eliminate the main source of noise from the propellers, which is the sound of air being displaced by the blades. Adding motorized flaps attached to the edge of the rotor blades can help reduce this noise, but such a solution is only theoretical and has yet to be tested. Noctua, an Austrian company is currently working on an alternate design for a silent propeller that will be used in cooling systems which may provide the ideal option in these types of applications.

Another major challenge faced by surveillance drones is that they cannot see through trees and so the poachers who are hiding in the dense forests cannot be detected using standard drone equipment. As a result, some modifications may be required to make this possible:

  • Laser Light to Penetrate through Forest Canopy: A laser light circuitry, embedded in the surveillance drone, could be used for imaging of the forests. A major proportion of the laser light penetrates through the leaves and trees, reflects back from the surface and is detected by an image processing circuitry in the drone. In theory, the laser light will not be harmful to the wildlife since it is a focused, monochromatic light that is part of the visible spectrum. The drone can then digitally separate the original signal from the signal that was initially reflected from the leaves and trees to develop an image of the surface by calculating the delay which occurred in the returning signal. The image can then be analyzed to spot shapes that look similar to a human body in order to detect poachers. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is currently developing such a solution.

These are just two of the challenges UAV technology needs to overcome before it will be truly effective for stopping poaching in wildlife protection services. Our feeling is that hybrid drones which are also silent and paired with good laser-based cameras will need to be developed for serious drone power in wildlife preservation situations.

In the meantime, can you think of other improvements that can be made to drones to help them in anti-poaching efforts? If you’re working on such an innovation, contact us so that we can interview you to spread the word!

 

Image via Flickr: Michael MK Khor

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