The idea of counting elephants from space may seem trivial and problematic. However, a group of scientists, including the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), are making this concept a reality. Scientists can observe 5000 kmĀ² of land occupied by elephants using an Earth-observation satellite in a day.

The project involves WildCRU, the University of Twente in the Netherlands, and the Machine Learning Research Group’s Department of Engineering. The satellite conducting this procedure must have high resolution to be able to take the pictures that it utilizes to extract the data on elephants. Maxxar Technologies and TensorFlow API partnered to develop the satellite branding in Worldview 3. EU Space Imaging found itself in this project as the distributor that engineered the satellite arriving at the launch centre.

Maxxar Technologies is changing the counting of elephants by monitoring them in the environment they inhabit with satellites. A scientist working with the Department of Zoology from the University of Oxford, Isla Duporge, stated that the previous technology of counting elephants in the savannah habitat with aircraft was sometimes too loud, causing a stampede among the elephants hindering efficient counting.

George explained that this technology creates a different system where they can count elephants that traverse the open landscape with satellite in different environments provided they are identifiable. The project’s computer scientists from the University of Bath in the UK, Dr Olga Isupova, enumerated that the satellite applies machine-learning technology to count the elephants with the same potential as humans. The scientists developed the algorithm that facilitates the identification process.

Isupova explained that they are still evaluating the possibility of comparing this data with the one collected by human-crewed aircraft. Nevertheless, the project engineers have already compared the statistics with data retrieved by humans, and they are operating on the same or slightly close counting margin. In other instances, satellites are facilitating the protection of coral reefs, identifying new penguin habitats in Antarctica, and landscaping on a photographic map every tree that exists on Earth using artificial intelligence technology. Initially, penguins and whales have been identified using pictures.

Still, the counting of elephants will be different because they dwell in vegetative landscapes like forests and grasslands, which hinders their speedy identification. Some of the challenges that the scientists have forecasted include cloud cover, which impedes the terrain and the animals’ visibility. George explained that they avoided areas with a high quantity of cloud cover for this study. Coincidentally, the places they selected have minimal cloud cover, making the whole process efficient. The other challenge identified was the cost of imagery. Nevertheless, the advantages supersede the disadvantages, with one being the fact that they can cover large areas without necessarily revisiting to recheck the count as human-crewed aircraft would do.

By Adam

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