Sunday, July 14, 2024

DOC releases new AI predator detection tools

Two new smart tools that detect and identify invading predators are now available for use in predator-free projects as part of the Department of Conservation’s ‘Tools to Market’ programme.

The Cacophony Project’s ‘DOC AI CAM’ and ASG Technologies Ltd’s ‘PredaCAM’ both use AI technology with portable ‘cameras’ to spot predators including rats, stoats and possums which sends information from remote sites to users to allow a rapid targeted response.

DOC Landscape Threats Science Manager, Clayson Howell says ‘Tools to Market’ supports innovation to develop the tools and technology to help achieve Predator Free 2050.

“In this case we were looking for improved tools to detect predators in low numbers such as incursions on pest-free islands or in areas where only small numbers of predators remain,” said Mr Howell.

“These companies have both pushed the boundaries with AI seamlessly integrated into their devices to allow rapid identification of predators in the field. This will dramatically reduce the cost and speed of identifying predators, allowing for a targeted response.

“While similar, the devices use different technologies, which may have advantages in different areas. Now they’re on the market, these tools can be used and further tested in a range of environments.”

Programme Manager at The Cacophony Project, Matthew Hellicar says support from DOC enabled them to redesign and improve their existing thermal camera. This automatically uploads recordings to Cacophony’s cloud servers where AI automatically identifies all invasive predators and then notifies users in real-time, he said.

“We are really pleased to have reduced both the cost and the power needs of the new DOC AI CAM. People are already using it in the field and we’re getting great feedback,” says Mr Hellicar. 

Two DOC AI CAM cameras are being used in the incursion response underway on pest free Motutapu in the Hauraki Gulf after a rat was spotted and are proving an efficient tool for monitoring.

ASG Technologies PredaCAM uses infrared technology and a cloud-based AI model that detects rats and relays instant alerts using the existing mobile network.

DOC funded development of the PredaCAM camera hardware, while Predator Free 2050 Ltd funded the rat AI model, which is still being trialled.

“We are excited about the positive impact this cutting-edge technology will have on conservation efforts across New Zealand,” said ASG Tech Operations Manager, Matt Park.

“Predator Free Wellington has already jumped on board and is trialling the PredaCAM at Mount Victoria, an area where predators remain.”  

In initial field trials, the PredaCAM achieved over 80% accuracy in detecting rats in the images. Predator Free Wellington is now trialling the camera to see how well the AI works in a range of environments. The camera is optimised for urban areas using the mobile network. A subsequent release, scheduled for early 2025, will incorporate satellite coverage to support areas without network access.  

These projects were two of five selected for support in the Tools to Market 2022 procurement round.

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