By pairing a thermal camera with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a student at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), a research institution in Switzerland, has come up with a way to spot fawns in the grass before a harvester passes through – cutting down on the risk of death to animals in a field.
According to a press release from EPFL, architecture student Simon Jobin works for a local company that monitors construction projects and makes 3D models of land plots. After reading an article about fawns that are accidentally killed by farm machinery during harvest, he realized that his drone could serve another purpose.
“When they hear the tractors coming, fawns lie down in the tall grass rather than running away. They’re almost invisible,” he says. “When I read the article, we’d just bought a thermal camera, and the idea came to me immediately.”
According to EPFL, farmers have previously called on gamekeepers and hunters – who are responsible for protecting wildlife, as well as managing it – to clear the fields of the animals.
“Gamekeepers also have thermal imaging devices that they use to sweep the fields on foot, but this flattens the grass and is very time-consuming,” explains Jobin.
The institution says Jobin has already volunteered the service to help farmers rescue fawns on roughly 10 occasions so far.
“You have to be there before the crack of dawn; otherwise, the sun warms up the ground, and the drone’s thermal camera can’t effectively detect the animals’ body heat,” he notes.
The UAV follows a programmed course to cover every inch of land in the field, and yellow dots on the screen show where the fawns are located. The animals then have to be moved without any direct physical contact, or they can be covered with a box so that farmers can work around them.
According to EPFL, the drone has had a 100% success rate when it comes to saving fawns, which are then found by their mothers once the humans have left.
In turn, Jobin and his colleagues are planning to set up a larger network of pilots to expand the operations.
“Harvesting takes place at a specific time of year, and it is not feasible for farmers to get their own drone and thermal camera, which costs almost 25,000 Swiss francs,” he explains. “That’s why it would be great to be able to rely on a network of volunteers who already have the right equipment.”