Lian Pin Koh: A drone’s-eye view of conservation


When it comes to Nepal, we mostly think of the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas, the crystal clear water of the mountain lakes or the vast expanses of the grasslands. Many people may not be aware that in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the climate is much warmer and the landscape is much greener the animal world is very diverse: Among other things, the Indian rhinoceros lives there, the Asian elephant and the bengal tiger. Unfortunately, these will constantly threatened by poachers, which they hunt and kill for some parts of the body. To stop the killing of these an army of soldiers and gamekeepers is sent out, to protect Nepal’s national parks.


But that’s not easy because the soldiers on foot or on elephants thousands of hectares of forest have to patrol. It is also dangerous for the soldiers when there is shooting with poachers. Therefore, Nepal is always on the lookout for new opportunities, forests and wildlife to protect. Recently, Nepal acquired a new remedy for the fight against poaching. These are Drones for nature conservation. Build for about a year my colleagues and I for Nepal and form the security guards of the parks in the use of the . A not only enables the view of the landscape from a bird’s eye view, but also the recording of more detailed, high resolution images of things on the ground.


Here z. B. is a pair of rhinos, on a hot summer day in the lowlands of Nepal take a cool bath. We believe that drones have enormous potential not only in the fight against poaching, but also monitor wildlife health. So what is a drone? The kind of drone I’m talking about is a simple model airplane, equipped with an autopilot system. It includes a tiny computer GPS, a compass, barometric altimeter and some other sensors. Such a drone should carry a payload, like a video camera or a photo camera. It also needs software that allows the user to to program a mission, to tell the drone where to go.


Many people are often surprised that these are the only four components a nature conservation drone, but they are even more surprised when I say how affordable these components are. In fact, a conservation drone costs not much more than a good notebook or a decent pair of binoculars. Now that the conservation drone is assembled, you probably want to fly with it, but how do you fly a drone? You don’t even fly them because a drone flies itself. You only have to program one mission and tell the drone where to fly. You do it simply by some waypoints on a google maps interface clicks with an open source software. Such missions can just be consist of some waypoints, or be a little longer and more complicated, like flying along a river network. Sometimes we fly over an area with the drone like a lawnmower and take photos, which can then be edited and at the end you have a map of the forest.


Other researchers want the drone maybe fly along the edge of the forest, to keep an eye out for poachers or someone who illegally enters the forest. No matter what use, once you have programmed it, you simply load it into the autopilot system, goes with the drone on site and launch it by simply throwing it into the air. With such a mission we often take photos and videos on the go. And then we get ourselves usually a coffee, sit back and relax for a few minutes.


Some of us also spend these minutes in a panic out of concern that the drone won’t come back. Usually she comes back and then it even lands automatically. What can we do with a conservation drone? When we built the first prototype of the drone, was our main goal, thus secluded rainforest in North Sumatra, Indonesia and after the nest of a great ape, the orangutan to look for. We wanted to do this because we needed to know how many of this kind were left in that forest.


You go for such a study traditionally packed with heavy equipment walking through the forest, and looks up into the treetops with binoculars, where you might find an orangutang or its nest. As you can imagine, this process costs a lot of time and money and is labor intensive. So with the drones we hoped the cost of studies of the orangutan population in Indonesia or elsewhere in Southeast Asia to be able to reduce significantly. We loved it when we got the first one Photographed orangutan nests. That’s it, the first picture taken with a drone of an orangutan nest. We have had pictures since then of dozens of nests Made in different areas of Southeast Asia. We are currently working with computer scientists in the development of algorithms that determine the number of nests on the thousands of photos collected can count automatically.


But nests aren’t the only ones that these drones can track down. This is a wild orangutan who happily eats on a palm tree, apparently without noticing the drone, which flew over him several times. We also took pictures of other animals, including forest buffalo in Gabon, Elephants and even turtle nests. We didn’t just take pictures of the animals themselves, but also of their habitat, because we have an overview want to keep on top of the health of these habitats. Sometimes we look at each other too from an even greater distance, what happens in the landscape. This is an oil palm plantation in Sumatra. Oil palms are a major cause of deforestation in that part of the world. Therefore we wanted to use this new drone to the spread of these plantations in Southeast Asia to keep an eye on.


You can also use drones to carry out illegal logging follow up. This is a recently cut forest also in Sumatra. You can even do it on the floor see left machined boards. Perhaps the most exciting aspect this aerial photography is that later you can put the pictures together and with special software can create entire landscape maps. This card gives us important information for land use monitoring – where and when plantations might be expanded, where forests are getting smaller or where fires break out. Aerial photos can also be edited in such a way that from it three-dimensional computer models of the forests arise. These models are not only visually appealing, they are also geometrically exact, so researchers know the distance measure between trees, or calculate surfaces and vegetation volume. This is all important information to monitor the health of the forests. We have also recently started doing experiments with thermal imaging cameras. These cameras can be on the floor Detect objects that radiate warmth. In this way they help to spot poachers or their campfires at night.


I’ve talked quite a bit about what conservation drones are, how to apply them and what they can do for us. Now I’ll talk about where in the world conservation drones are used. We built our first prototype in Switzerland. We brought some of them to Indonesia for the first test flights. Since then we have for many people built drones all over the world, including other biologists and partners of large environmental organizations. Perhaps the best and most rewarding aspect of this cooperation are the suggestions that we receive how we can improve our drones. We are constantly building drones and try constantly to improve them: their reach, their robustness and payload, that they are able to carry. We work with our partners also on new applications for the drones.


Camera traps are z. B. a normal aid, that biologists use to take pictures of shy animals, who hide in the forest. These cameras have a motion sensor and take a picture when an animal passes them. The problem with this is that the researchers go back to the forest and have to pick up these recordings. It takes a long time, especially when dozens or hundreds of cameras are distributed in the forest. A drone can be designed so that it does that much more efficiently. This drone equipped with a special sensor can be flown over the forest and from there recordings from WiFi enabled cameras. Collars also equipped with transmitters are often used by biologists. These collars are put on animals. They send out a signal that allows the researcher to record the movements of the animals across the landscape. But the traditional way of monitoring animals is pretty ridiculous.


The researcher has to walk while walking carry around a huge, bulky antenna, similar to an old television antenna, that we had on the roofs back then. Some still have them. A drone could do this do much more efficiently. Why not threaten one equip the scanning receiver and they in a certain pattern fly over the treetops, which enables the user to the position of the animals with the collars to locate from a distance, without having to go into the forest. The third and perhaps most exciting way to use these drones is taking them to a distant one and to fly unexplored rainforest, hidden somewhere in the tropics and drop a tiny spy microphone there, with which we the calls the mammals, birds, amphibians there, overheard the Yeti, Sasquatch, Bigfoot, etc. That would be us biologists give a pretty good picture of what animals live in the forest. In conclusion, I would like you to show the latest model of our nature protection drone.


The span of the MAJA drone is about 2 meters. She weighs only 2 kilos and can carry half their own weight. It is a completely self-sufficient system. During an operation, it can even Broadcast live video to a laptop on the ground station. So a user can in real time see what the drone sees. She wears an assortment of sensors. The image quality of some of these sensors can be up to two cm per pixel. This drone can stay in the air for 40 to 60 minutes, which gives a range of up to 50 km. This is quite sufficient for most nature conservation operations. Conservation drones began as a crazy idea of ​​two biologists, who are passionate about this . And we firmly believe that drones are a turning point in that Conservation research and its application will trigger.


There were many skeptics and critics they thought we were just trying out toy planes. Somehow they are right too. Let’s be honest. These drones are the ultimate toy for boys. But at the same time we also have many wonderful ones Met colleagues and supporters, who share our vision and recognize the potential of nature conservation drones. It is clear to us that biologists and employees in nature conservation take full advantage of everyone available should pull stationary means, including drones, in our fight for the last remaining forests and the wildlife of this planet. Many Thanks. (Applause).

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