The sky’s the limit

Have you heard of TED? Every scientist should be aware of it. TED is simply a forum of video taped (are things still “taped” these days?) talks given by anyone who has an “idea worth sharing”. Some of my favorite talks are about mathemagic and why too many choices are bad, just to give an idea of the breadth of topics covered in TED talks.

Anyway, I wanted to share a TED talk I discovered about an exciting new tool that could change how conservation biologists do their thing. I was drawn to this because of my background in conservation biology, where I investigated the commercial harvest of snapping turtles in Maryland. Yes, people commercially harvest turtles just like many other commercial fisheries, and yes, people eat turtles (although mostly the Chinese). Right, so what is the exciting new tool for conservation biologists? Drones.

Unfortunately, most of the media coverage of drones comes in the form of militarized drones, fitted with spy cameras and even weapons, which strike military targets. Civilian drones, otherwise known as radio-controlled (RC) aircraft, are actually considered toys. What makes them useful to biologists is that you can equip RC aircraft with a flight controller, camera, or other useful gadgets (leave the missiles at home).

Drone equation copy

In one example, folks in Nepal equipped an RC airplane with a GoPro camera and found a pair of rhinos taking a bath in a river. I think they also mention relocating a Bengal tiger that they would never have seen had they been on foot. They also used aerial photography to locate and count orangutan nests.

Orangutan nests copy

And to document deforestation.

Deforestation copy

The usefulness of using drones is that it alleviates many of the problems with having to travel on foot in difficult terrain while carrying heavy equipment. Bat people: I’m thinking of you and your radio telemetry madness. What would you think if you could put your radio receiver on a small plane that could fly the entirety of your field site in a matter of minutes? Other uses could be to retrieve data from wildlife cameras or radio collars using RC aircraft; the latter is an idea I am putting together using an Arduino microcontroller.

Wireless copy

How could you use an airplane or helicopter to make your fieldwork easier?

Link to Drone Conservation TED talk

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About Pat Cain

I like discovering things that are non-random. I'm fascinated when my dog remembers how to do a trick after a year of not doing that particular trick, or when I know to wear a jacket tomorrow when it's warm and windy today. As a biologist, I suppose that's my main job: to find and describe occurrences of non-randomness.
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