Intel UAS technology aids environmental researchers

By Patrick C. Miller | October 10, 2017

Researchers studying the environmental health of the planet are getting assistance from Intel’s Falcon 8+ drone, which enables them to gather data on wildlife in a safer, more efficient and less invasive manner.

Intel’s Artificial Intelligence Products Group believes a combination of sensors and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technology has the potential to help solve global challenges by accelerating large-scale problem-solving.

“The Falcon 8+ drone opens up new opportunities to access difficult, hard-to-reach terrain,” said Anil Nanduri, vice president and general manager of Intel’s drone group.  “For example, researchers have aspirations to study polar bear populations in closer proximity to their dens to see if there are new cubs in the spring time and the Intel Falcon 8+ may be able to enable this type of study.”

According to Nanduria, the Intel drone was less disruptive to wildlife when compared to helicopters and other traditional methods of aerial research. The Falcon 8+ was flown 55-110 yards away from the polar bears to monitor them for changes in their behavior.

“It was a test to determine if the drone can pick them out using the thermal sensors,” he explained. “What we did learn is that the drone is a great tool for further, more in-depth studies.”

Intel reported that its technology was used to conduct two successful wildlife and environmental expeditions. In the Barents Sea region above arctic glaciers, the Falcon 8+ drone helped wildlife photographer and conservationist, Ole Jørgen Liodden, track polar bear communities and capture information on their behavior patterns.

The World Wildlife Federation has identified the Barents Sea as a region inhabited by 2,500 to 3,000 polar bears, but says data is lacking on their population trends. Studies using Intel’s UAS technology to track the bears’ behavior patterns can help fill in the gaps.

“Polar bears are a symbol of the Arctic,” Liodden said. “They are strong, intelligent animals. If they become extinct, there will be challenges with our entire ecosystem. Drone technology can hopefully help us get ahead of these challenges to better understand our world and preserve the earth’s environment.”

To measure the health of the oceans, Intel is working in partnership with Parley for the Oceans and Oceans Alliance using artificial intelligence to analyze the condition of whales and the environment. Project SnotBot uses Intel machine learning technology to help the alliance improve data analysis by running algorithms that can identify a particular whale and assess its health in real time.

This technology enables researchers to make more timely decisions in the field and better understand the biological data whale snot holds, including DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, viruses, bacteria and toxins. The SnotBot has been used to collect spout water from blue whales, right whales, gray whales, humpbacks and orcas in oceans around the world.

Cyrill Gutsch, Parley for the Oceans founder, said the collaboration with Ocean Alliance and Intel using non-invasive research and technology allows researchers to explore the oceans in real time to collect open-source data and knowledge.

“Our vision is to create a global network of digital exploration tools which generate the big data we need to identify threats with new speed and precision, so we can act on them instantly," he said.