Video: Have a Look at the World’s First Radio-Tracking Drone

To keep tabs on radio-tagged wildlife, researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Sydney have devised the world’s first radio-tracking drone (video below).

The new development marks a significant leap in science-based animal tracking by using drones to fly over the Australian bush canopy to accurately locate radio-tagged animal populations. The drone technology has successfully detected miniscule radio transmitters weighing as little as a single gram, says lead researcher Dr. Debbie Saunders in a newsroom report by the ANU.

The small aerial robot will allow researchers to more rapidly and accurately find tagged wildlife, gain insights into movements of some of the world’s smallest and least known species, and access areas that are otherwise inaccessible, Dr Saunders explained.

The researchers have performed more than 150 test flights, proving that drones can now be used to “find and map the locations of animals with radio tags.”

Predictably, the technology has whipped up interest not only within Australia but the world over.

“Lots of people are trying to do this. It is not an easy process, but we believe we’ve come up with a solution,” said Oliver Cliff, a researcher at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR), working at the University of Sydney.

We’ve had interest in our system from all around the world. We are still doing some fine tuning but we’ve achieved more than has ever been done before, which is exciting.

The Making of the Radio-Tag Sniffing Drone

As a wildlife ecologist, Dr. Saunders initially came up with the idea over eight years ago when looking to track small migratory birds that are endangered, like the swift parrot.

The bank behind the technology was put together by funding from the Linkage Project Grant and the Loro Parque Foundation. Dr. Robert Fitch and his team of researchers at the ACFR built and tested the drone system over the past two and half years.

Essentially, the entire setup consists of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or a drone, a custom-built miniature receiver and an antenna. Real-time information is relayed to a laptop by the receiver and the antenna looking into radio-tracked wildlife.

Conventional tracking of animals involves GPS collars, which has its drawbacks.

“Radio tracking of collars manually is very time-consuming,” asserted ANU Associate Professor Manning, who helped the research team and was clear about the benefits of drone-based tracking.

Early indications are that the drones could save a huge amount of time. If you have two operators working, and they can put the drone up in two bursts of 20 minutes, they can do what would take half a day or more to do using ground methods.

The published paper titled ‘Online Localization of Radio-Tagged Wildlife with an Autonomous Aerial Robot System’ can be found here.



Image from Stuart Hay, ANU.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.