“When they are gone, when every last one of them has been snatched away from earth, people understand the value of life”

The Earth is a living organism on its own. It comprises a wonderful ecosystem and to maintain ecological balance in it, all forms of life like animals, plants and marine species should be given the same importance as humans if not more. Humans have been criminally dominating this ecosystem, causing many species to lose their lives.

For instance, the Spix Macaw (the birds from the movie Rio) was thought to be extinct in the wild due to excessive habitat destruction, illegal trapping and trading. A depressing figure of only 100 birds are left in captivity. Humans aren’t the only culprits though with many other factors like predation by other animals, lack of breeding, diseases and the like. What could be done though, to save these animals?

We’ve all heard it. Most of you might have done it. Raising various messages and slogans for the conservation of animals and the ecosystem as a whole. While all these promote a sense of awareness amongst individuals, species are still vulnerable to various human factors and guess what, we might be an indirect part of it too. Listening to the news and feeling pity for these poor animals isn’t going to grant extra lives from God for these animals since it is the same humans which are a part of this endangerment of species.

It is difficult to track and monitor populations of endangered species. Even if they succeed in locating the dwindling population of these species, scientists were unable to unite breeding pairs of the species (an example for this would be the death of the last male Northern white Rhinoceros in Sudan). This is just one among the thousands of species fighting extinction on a daily basis with many species not even discovered yet.

It’s not uncommon for wildlife conservationists to use technologies like cameras and tracking collars. What’s new is the technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning (ML), Robotics, the Internet of Things, Wireless, and the cloud. The usage of these technologies is touching many industries, including conservation.

Hence this World Endangered Species Day (15th May), Rancho Labs decided to take a look at the role of robots and other technologies that are helping these species fight their battle against extinction. The numerous technologies and their role in this battle has been mentioned with a way to look forward to a better future.

Usage of Drones

Drones are the aerial version of mobile robots and it is the most widely used technology for remote monitoring and gathering of data. These airborne machines with their eyes in the form of a camera can help gather far more accurate data on endangered species than humans on the ground can. These drones literally go the extra mile and cover areas where humans can’t go. These drones are useful when they are used with cameras, sensors and GPS.

The accuracy of finding these species is more in drones than by traditional human methods according to a paper in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution. The researchers used rubber ducks to prove their claim. A group of people saw these ducks using binoculars and reported the number whereas the others operated the drone. The accuracy was found to be at least 43% better than traditional methods.

The University of Bristol has been trialling the use of these drones and sensors to get more data and monitor the populations of the Kordofan giraffe at Bénoué National Park. They have been listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Talking about this issue to NatGeo, Naftali Honig said,”We also track them using aerial surveillance, which enables us to continuously monitor their whereabouts. These methods help us to better understand giraffe populations.”

In some cases, land robots are used to rather spy on these animals and notice any abnormal behaviour in their activities, monitor their patterns and track their movements. This technology is used in other places such as the Arctic Circle to monitor species of seals, Colorado river to look at the various species of fishes, South Africa to stop the poaching of Rhinos to name a few.

Robotics

Use of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence can be used to track the movements of animals over a geographical area. Camera Traps have been used to take images of wildlife animals and AI technology is used to distinguish the species and hence collect data regarding the regions, movement and other activities of these animals.

Professor Milind Tambe, who has been working on Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security or PAWS system using AI to save the animals, says that he could use AI to predict the movement of the poachers and deploy the rangers to stop Poaching. PAWS was first tested in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park, and taken to Malaysia for a larger trial in 2014. This system was found to be better than traditional security measures and made the Rangers’ work more effective. This is considered to be a major step in reducing the deaths of animals due to incessant poaching. Drones can be conjuncted with AI to track the poachers and notify the forest rangers immediately.

Robotics

Usage in Marine World

Oceans consist of about 70% of earth’s surface and they possess a unique world of their own with many exotic species of fishes, crustaceans, plants and the like. Hence it is equally important to save these species from predation and other human factors.

A robotic fish named SoFi developed by MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab swims alongside real fish in the water bodies and captures their footage without disrupting them. The robot has been tested at Fiji's Rainbow Reef. It has a silicone body based on real fishes which gives it a natural swimming pattern, and its buoyancy is controlled by adjusting weights. This can be used to monitor marine life and the various species living inside the water.

Local fishermen also use a low cost, durable and effective technology called Pingers to reduce the number of exotic marine animals caught. Pinger uses a sonic pulse to distract the Dolphins, Whales and other animals which are sensitive to it. These pingers could be attached to fishing nets and cost only 1 Euro a piece.

Robotics

Reducing Invasive Species using Robots

An invasive species is any plant or animal that is not native to the region causing imbalance with activities like predation, fighting for food or even spreading an unwanted disease. Robots may help in reducing the Threat of Invasive Species. An example for an invasive species would be the Western Mosquitofish which were introduced by humans to eat the mosquito larvae to reduce the problem of mosquitos. However they soon claimed to dominate the region, often eating the food of the native species. The population of the native species started to dwindle and hence scientists thought of introducing a mechanical fish to control the behaviour of these fishes. The robot fish was designed to pose as a threat only to the Western Mosquitofish and harmless to every other life in the region and hence reducing the threat posed to native species.

We had discussed the unconventional methods used to save the endangered species. There are a lot of common methods used such as preserving the DNA of critical species for reconstruction, bio-tagging and communities to spread awareness. There is still the room for more technologies to discover, monitor, protect and preserve these species.

Conclusion

The first step to a better future is in understanding the problem. By taking an interest in this problem, you can check out local initiatives to make a difference rather than planning on changing the whole world. You could raise awareness by spreading the word through blogs like these(we hope we made you aware) or even donate a few bucks to any Wildlife organisation of your choice.

It is necessary to stop buying products made out of endangered animals. Even with the introduction of various government rules banning them, for example the tusks of elephants for ivory, illegal trade is still happening. If you feel an animal is killed needlessly for its produce, please don’t buy it and do your bit in saving them.

On a bigger scale, wildlife agencies are doing their part in saving these species. With the help of technology, their jobs could be made much easier and much more effective. You looked at the technologies that were helping them in this battle. You could play your own part and come up with your own technologies for the benefit of these species and for the benefit of mankind as a whole. Various philanthropists and organizations have been funding wildlife agencies and technologies alike to save our animal friends.

“Humans and animals can live in harmony. Together. Forever”

Our robotic friends have been very useful in aiding humans to save our animal friends from other humans. It is sometimes sad to realize this fact and only hope for the better in the future. Do you wish that you could do something about the endangered species? Do you wish you could learn something to implement a solution? Join the Rancho Labs’ Robotics Online Summer Camp.

About the Author

Vignesh Hariharan is a student of SSN College of Engineering pursuing his Bachelors in Computer Science and Engineering. He is a Product Management and Cloud Computing enthusiast. Passionate about Football and watching Manchester City play. Loves to read Agatha Christie and other thriller novels. He writes on Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Space Science for Rancho Labs.