Using drones for environmental research and spying

Think of them as robots with wings.  When it comes to the environment, drones are all the rage right now. 

Ready to launch... forest monitoring in Nepal

Ready to launch... forest monitoring in Nepal

For instance, Brazil is experimenting with drones as a way to monitor forests and land-use in the Amazon, especially for keeping a close eye on landowners who try to clear forests illegally.

And Kenya plans to deploy drones to spy on poachers within 52 of its national parks, after a wildly successful pilot program found drones reduced poaching by up to 96%.

ALERT member Lian Pin Koh is a leader in developing cost-effective drones for conservation research.  Here he tells us a bit more about his work:

Conservation is impossible without good field data.  Traditionally, conservation scientists have relied on ground-based surveys, manned aircraft, and satellite images to acquire the data they need.  But all these approaches have disadvantages—they are often expensive, difficult, or limited in the area they can cover.

For this reason Serge Wich and I founded the ConservationDrones project in 2012.

Conservation drones are low-cost, autonomous, and operator-friendly aerial vehicles.  They can fly pre-programmed missions of up to 40 kilometers, and acquire high-quality videos and photos.

The drone’s ’brain’ is an autopilot system developed by an online community of drone builders.  Many drones are equipped with a still-photograph camera with built-in GPS, so that all photographs are geo-tagged.

The flight path for each mission is created by simply clicking waypoints on a Google satellite map.  The drone is hand-launched, and then goes about its mission and returns and lands automatically.

A drone's-eye view: no place to hide for illegal loggers

A drone's-eye view: no place to hide for illegal loggers

Remarkably, our drones cost just a few thousand dollars each.  We are using them to survey forests, to track rhinos, orangutans, and elephants, and to detect poachers and illegal logging and forest burning. 

Because they are so cheap, easy to use, and versatile, our drones are increasingly being used by NGOs and governments around the world.  We think they can make a big contribution to nature conservation—the sky’s the limit!