New AI system counts endangered elephants from space

Scientists have unveiled a new tool for monitoring endangered wildlife: an AI system that automatically counts elephants from space.

The tech combines satellite cameras with a convolutional neural network (CNN) to capture African elephants moving through forests and grasslands.

In tests, the surveying technique detected elephants as accurately as human observers, while eliminating the risk of disturbing the species.

The research joins a growing range of AI projects that are seeking to protect endangered animals.

“Accurate monitoring is essential if we’re to save the species,” said Dr Olga Isupova, a computer scientist at the University of Bath who created the detection algorithm. “We need to know where the animals are and how many there are.”

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The system also offers a more efficient alternative to manually counting animals from low-flying airplanes. Each satellite can collect more than 5,000 km² of imagery every few minutes. And if clouds obscure the land, the process can be repeated the following day, on the satellite’s next revolution of Earth.

In addition, the technique can track animals as they roam across countries without having to worry about border controls or conflicts.

Credit: 2020 Maxar Technologies