Intel Uses Drones, AI to Help Save Polar Bears and Whales

Today, on World Animal Day, Intel Corp. is announcing two successful wildlife research expeditions powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and drones.

In two separate collaborations with a wildlife photographer and conservationist, Ole Jørgen Liodden, and nonprofit organizations Parley for the Oceans and Ocean Alliance, Intel leveraged its AI and drone technology to provide researchers with tools to better inform their findings – giving them the ability to more quickly, safely and cost-effectively gather and process critical data.

“Artificial intelligence is poised to help us solve some of our most daunting challenges by accelerating large-scale problem-solving, including unleashing new scientific discovery,” says Naveen Rao, vice president and general manager of the artificial intelligence products group at Intel. “Intel is proud to bring our expertise and technology to these research efforts and aid in the mission to better understand the health of our planet and, ultimately, humanity.”

Polar bear exploration
Traditional methods involving helicopters for exploration can be invasive and costly, says Intel. Paired with arctic conditions, including freezing temperatures and heavy winds, exploration from a boat in these remote areas is also challenging. In addition, the steel found in most boats can cause magnetic fields that challenge drone compasses, making it extremely difficult to take off and land on a moving boat.

In turn, the Intel Falcon 8+ unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is helping Liodden track polar bear communities in the Arctic by capturing information on their behavior patterns, which will provide researchers with accurate, more reliable data captured in a safer and more efficient way, explains Intel. Tracking the polar bears’ behavior, breeding, feeding and migration habits helps scientists understand the effects of climate change, the company adds.

A recent expedition found that polar bears did not show any signs of distress or changes in behavior when the Intel Falcon 8+ drone was flown approximately 50-100 meters from the animals. Importantly, the UAS’ thermal camera payload made it easier to spot the bears against the colder background.

“Polar bears are a symbol of the Arctic,” says Liodden. “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.”

Whale exploration
Intel is working in partnership with both Parley for the Oceans and Oceans Alliance to advance scientific understanding on the health of our oceans by using AI 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 – regardless of the presence of confounding factors, such as the whale’s unpredictable movements and limited ocean visibility.

Researchers can then make more timely decisions in the field and better understand the rich biological data that whale snot holds, including DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, viruses, bacteria, and toxins. So far, the SnotBot has been used to collect spout water from blue whales, right whales, gray whales, humpbacks and orcas in oceans around the world.

“Parley Snotbot, a collaboration with Ocean Alliance and Intel, is a new and non-invasive research technology which allows us to explore our oceans in real time and open-source data and knowledge,” says Cyrill Gutsch, Parley for the Oceans founder. “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.”

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