UAV-America, a New Hampshire-based designer and builder of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), is helping a South African game preserve protect white rhinos by using a multi-rotor unmanned aircraft.
The UAV is equipped with infrared thermal imaging and daylight cameras, which patrol inconspicuously from above, transmitting streaming video to the ground, the company explains.
The endangered white rhino is commonly under siege by poachers looking to make money from selling the tusks, UAV-America says.
Vance Kershner, CEO of LabWare, a global technology company that develops software for automating laboratory operations, founded the Madikwe Conservancy in South Africa, which holds more than six thousand animals. However, the conservancy’s armed guards have trouble keeping poachers away, so Kershner, along with engineer Jim Faunce, developed the UAV solution.
UAV-America provided the basic UAV platform and the design support to choose and integrate the right flight controller, gimbal mount, transmitter, cameras, thermal imaging and other components with the vehicle.
The company found a controller solution that allows a range of up to 110 km, allowing the pilot to patrol remotely from a long distance. It also can be programmed with a flight plan in advance for fully autonomous missions, according to UAV-America.
Now, the company says, the preserve will soon have an efficient, low-cost solution for aiding patrols in locating white rhino on the preserve. Thermal imaging can identify poachers even if, for example, they are hiding in the bushes when at night. A built-in GPS allows pilots to communicate exact coordinates if suspicious activity is detected.
Kershner also anticipates using the UAV solution for the preserve's annual aerial surveys and game counts, which until now required renting a helicopter for upwards of $10,000 per day.
Testing has begun in New Hampshire and will move to New Jersey for some limited flying. A field test in South Africa will take place at the beginning of August.