AI-powered Digital Owl boosts NSW's conservation efforts

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AI-powered Digital Owl boosts NSW's conservation efforts
The Digital Owl drone. Source: Fujitsu

Benchmark Awards 2020 finalist.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has partnered with Fujitsu to simplify conservation efforts using drones and AI.

As part of the‘Saving Our Species’ program, Fujitsu and the OEH ran high-resolution hyperspectral images collected by specialist drones through Fujitsu’s Zenrai artificial intelligence platform to autonomously identify different plant species.

An OEH spokesperson told iTnews that “scanning and surveying large areas of bushland in the hope of spotting a threatened species usually involves field trips or the chartering of a helicopter to access the area and capture images,” which is both costly and time intensive.

But a recent pilot program at Mount Dangar in the Goulburn River National Park was able to successfully spot two endangered plant species: acacia dangarensis, a species of acacia native to eastern Australia; and a rare type of daisy that hadn’t been observed in the wild for over a year.

So far the cloud-based image recognition engine is working at around 70 percent accuracy, however, further enhancements are expected to boost its accuracy to 80 percent in the coming months.

The same technology could also be used to monitor “incursions of weeds and other threats,” OEH ecosystems and threatened species senior team leader Lucas Grenadier said.

By lowering the time and financial investments in performing vegetation surveys like this (with a saving of $50,000 per observation mission), the OEH expects to be able to increase the scope and frequency of its data gathering operations to make better informed conservation decisions.

Having a more comprehensive understanding of the landscape also enables the OEH to track the impacts of drought, fire and climate change over time and adapt its conservation efforts accordingly.

This project is a finalist in the sustainability category of the iTnews Benchmark Awards 2020.

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