AI-powered wildlife camera
Our tech for good venture Hack The Planet developed the world's first AI-powered wildlife camera that detects animal species and people and sends real-time alerts to rangers in nature parks.
Animal species threatened with extinction due to poaching. Deadly conflicts with animals foraging for food in an ever-shrinking habitat. Faced with this problem, we realized: smart technology can contribute to nature conservation.
Technology for nature conservation
In the African rainforest, technology has been used for some time to preserve, protect and restore nature. For example, automated wildlife cameras are widely used for ecosystem monitoring. But these efforts are complicated by the challenging environment (e.g. temperature, humidity, direct sunlight) and the great distances: sometimes months can pass between collecting data and analyzing it. Without a reliable mobile or Wi-Fi connection, it is not possible to send images and take action. Something that is necessary when poachers are targeting rhinoceroses in a nature park or when a herd of hungry elephants invades a village. In both poaching and human-elephant conflicts, the lack of real-time information leads to casualties.
A smarter camera system
To stop poachers and prevent human-elephant conflicts, our tech for good venture Hack The Planet developed a new camera system. Thanks to AI, this system can detect different animal species and people and provide real-time warnings to rangers or villagers. By combining a machine learning model, ready-made wildlife cameras and adapted hardware with a satellite connection, we make it possible to send real-time information from remote places.
Testing in the toughest conditions
That this real-time AI wildlife camera really works has been demonstrated together with scientists from the University of Stirling in a study published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution (January 3, 2023). This research is based on a pilot we conducted in Gabon. It is the first time that such an innovative camera system has been thoroughly tested in the difficult conditions of a rainforest. In 72 days, five camera systems took more than 800 photos, 217 of which were of elephants. The AI model achieved an accuracy of 82% in recognizing elephants. Rangers received an alert from the system within seven minutes on average. This makes it the world's first AI wildlife camera that detects elephants and humans in remote places in real time for conservation and ecology purposes. The pilot shows that remote monitoring and offline analyses can be made reliably. Our solution does not depend on the installation of additional network infrastructure in the landscape and can be deployed in the field by non-experts anywhere in the world.
"Real-time data from smart cameras and other sensors could revolutionise how we monitor and protect the world's most threatened ecosystems. The advances made in this study show that real-time data could be used to make better decisions during time-critical situations."
Dr Robin Whytock, Post-doctoral Researcher at the University of Stirling
Preventing human-elephant conflict
Our real-time AI wildlife cameras help prevent human-elephant conflicts. These confrontations are a growing problem worldwide that often result in the death of people and/or animals. Our smart technology serves as the basis for the so-called elephant repeller. As soon as a hungry elephant comes close to a village, it is detected by our system. This then sends a signal to the repeller, which automatically produces sounds and flashes of light to scare the elephant away. This AI camera system application is supported and funded by WWF, and has also been further developed for protecting bears in Romania.
The platform of the smart camera system can not only be used to prevent human-animal conflicts. It also helps detect illegal activity in protected areas by alerting rangers. In addition to the AI camera, Hack The Planet has been working on mobile phone sensors since 2018 in the fight against poaching. This sensor scans the frequency bands emitted by telephones. Poachers always need a telephone to call for support after they have killed a rhinoceros or elephant. Detecting these phones in combination with real-time camera images could be the holy grail in protecting endangered species.
Before it's too late
Until now, there have been few or no ways to track animals and detect poaching activities. Hack The Planet not only shows that it is possible, but also shares with rangers and others involved how it is done. This way, more and more people can use this technology for the conservation of endangered animals. The more, the better. We must turn the tide before it is too late for some species.
"Fewer of our eco-guards will die, and more poachers will be caught, if we can deploy this technology."
Lee White, Gabonese minister of Water, Forests, the Sea and Environment
In 2023, the smart wildlife camera won the audience and silver jury prize in the Technology category at the Lovie Awards, the most prestigious prize for digital work in Europe.