Here's How Robots Are Helping in Wildlife Conservation

Posted on 15/04/2024 by ZacAmos in Environmental

Most people think about robots in the context of technology and manufacturing. However, countless conservation organizations use their powers to protect species and habitats. These revolutionary use cases for robotics could be one of the many puzzle pieces for keeping animals safe against rising threats. Learn about case studies and whether they are as effective as teams hoped.

Technologies Support Wildlife Robotics

Before exploring how agencies implement robots, it’s essential to understand what makes them work. Engineers embed myriad tech assets into these machines, so what are they capable of?

  • Lidar: Refers to light detection and ranging, which can create maps, follow routes and do tracking.
  • Machine learning: Pairs with artificial intelligence to gather data and make determinations via algorithms for suggesting conservation strategies and process improvements.
  • Computer vision: Uses sensors and cameras to identify everything from animals to plants and even poachers.
  • The Internet of Things: IoT tracks metrics with sensors, including temperature, location, health or pollution.
  • Integrated software systems: Collects information from robots and compiles them into programs to visualize activities.
  • GPS: Recognizes geofences and breaches in security to send alerts about poachers or escaped animals from safe zones.

Many of these innovations can appear in drones, autonomous underwater vehicles and countless other robotic variants. 

1. Alaskan Robot Dogs

Autonomous robotic dogs have caused controversies when employed by police departments and companies to surveil citizens. However, Fairbanks International Airport in Alaska has other ideas for its robot dog, Aurora. It has replaceable parts, so it can also resemble a fox or coyote. The airport wanted nonlethal animal control methods, hence the $70,000 investment.

Aurora’s job is to use its sensors to watch out for wildlife. The region has numerous animals in and around the area during migratory bird seasons. The dog intends to boost conservation efforts by safely scaring animals away from endangering locations. This is easily translatable to other airports with even more diverse wildlife guests.

2. Jellyfish-Inspired Recyclers

Ocean plastics are the subject of documentaries and intense TikToks worldwide, but robots tackle this issue to keep aquatic life safer. They can more safely go to places in marine environments where people cannot in order to gather trash for recycling. Next-generation, six-armed, jellyfish-inspired robots are on the case. This is one of many experiments in biomimicry, or creating technology inspired by natural processes.

The robot opens up its dome to capture objects from above, using propulsion to move and manipulate ocean waste into its grip. Its design makes it operate without a sound, ensuring noise pollution doesn’t harm nearby wildlife. Projects like these are multipurpose because they open more opportunities to test and develop remotely operated underwater robots while performing necessary exploration.

3. Conservation Storytelling

Imagine going to a zoo or a modern classroom with a humanlike robot ready to give learners the most up-to-date information about conservation efforts and the importance of biodiversity. Employing environmental literacy robots in education has countless applications. 

One study explored how tasking students with building robots to tell eco-conscious stories improved their conservation literacy with this creativity-induced STEM project. Having more touchpoints where people can access this information could foster the next generation of environmental stewards, animal biologists or zoo staff.

4. Snot Collectors

While the name may not be appealing, it turns out using robotic drones to collect snot is a huge help in identifying and monitoring sei whales, which are becoming rarer by the day. The affectionately named SnotBots do more than that. Similar drone technologies have missions to count Falkland Island seabirds, Sumatran orangutans and Brazilian muriquis monkeys.

SnotBot has a petri dish to collect samples, delivering them to marine biologists for analysis. The mucus is a gold mine of whale DNA, which is critical for keeping an eye on dwindling populations. Researchers can figure out their movement patterns and if whales start disappearing.

5. AI Tiger-Tracking

The World Wildlife Fund is working with Intel on a Siberian tiger conservation project that monitors movement, population health and activity anomalies. These efforts should identify and verify their major threats in hopes of regenerating their numbers from critical conditions. 

AI can recognize each tiger because of their stripes, which are as unique as human fingerprints. It eliminates time-consuming manual efforts, letting experts study from a safe distance.

6. Colonies of RoboBees

The risk of bees going extinct is a terrifying scenario, as the world’s agriculture relies on pollinators to keep crops thriving. What do robotics professionals do to respond to this emerging threat? They created RoboBees to automate pollination to prevent areas from struggling.

These robots can do more than pollinate plants. They gather information about the planets they help while operating with some of the most impressive sensors and computational brainpower to act as a colony. 

7. Solar-Powered Sloths

This adorable robot moves about as slowly as its two-toed Costa Rican counterpart. Seen at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, this tool carefully collects massive amounts of data while chilling in the trees. It integrates solar panels to keep it awake and carbon-friendly. Plus, it doesn’t overconsume power because it doesn’t move around much. 

The robot will monitor endangered species, pollinators and plant activity. However, it could have even more conservation applications in precision agriculture, identifying insects or invasive species.

When Tech Meets Nature

Robotic conservation techniques are as limitless as humanity’s imagination. Invisible sensors stop poaching and illegal trade. Aerial drones follow threatened migrating oceanic species to make sure they stay safe. Robots will enter universities, botanic gardens, zoos, exotic vet clinics and other spaces to encourage plant and animal safety.

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