It's a mouthful, but an astrophysics-ecology drone has been developed by researchers at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and they say that it could be the key to boosting global conservation efforts.
Drones have been used to study and protect endangered species for years now, from patrolling for poachers to counting chimpanzees in forest canopies. A recent study even concluded that drones are far better at wildlife monitoring than humans because they can cover a greater area in the same amount of time and they can get a bird's eye view that captures more of the landscape and allows for more accurate head counts.
So, what is this new version? It's a fixed-wing drone like those that we've seen used in previous conservation efforts, but instead of just having a normal camera, it's outfitted with thermal cameras and coupled with analysis techniques used to study objects in space. Created through a partnership between the ecology and astrophysics departments at the university, it will use technology that is used to find and identify objects in the distant Universe to monitor endangered species, look out for poachers and track habitat destruction.
"The World Bank estimates that ecosystems provide $33 trillion every year to the global economy and biodiversity loss and consequent ecosystem collapse is one of the ten foremost dangers facing humanity. We hope this research will help tackle these problems by allowing anyone in the world to upload their aerial data and in real time get back geo-locations of anything, whether that be survivors of natural disasters, or poachers approaching endangered species, or even the size, weight and health of livestock," said Professor Serge Wich from LJMU's School of Natural Sciences and Psychology and founder of conservationdrones.org.
The images taken by the drones will be analyzed to create libraries of thermal heat profiles for each species, including humans, so that they can be automatically detected and identified when the drones are in the field. This could enable conservationists to act quickly when poachers are spotted or habitat destruction is occurring.
The next phase is to expand the techniques to natural disaster relief. The technology could make search and rescue operation much more efficient.
You can see what a crash of rhinos looks like with the cameras below.