[Editor’s Note: Using the drone, a survey only took 30 minutes, when previously it would have taken two hours.]
ARTIFICIAL intelligence drone technology is being trialled as a new method of tracking endangered koala populations.
The new technology, which was developed in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology and the Gold Coast, Tweed and Logan councils, is believed to be more cost-efficient and effective than current tracking methods.
“An area survey would normally take around two hours when conducted by the human eye,” QUT aerospace engineering associate professor and project leader Felipe Gonzalez said.
“In a recent trial, the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) completed the same survey in half an hour.
“Basically, it uses tracking algorithms and thermal imaging technology to detect even the most well-camouflaged koalas, and differentiate them by shape from other species, such as a possum or bird.”
The drone has been in development for over a year, and commenced its first trial at the end of last month, with test flights conducted in known koala habitat areas which include Coomera and Pimpama. It is expected to be rolled out to other at-risk areas over the coming months.
Professor Gonzalez said the technology would be instrumental in protecting vulnerable koala populations, as its high-resolution imaging and GPS capabilities would allow their movements and population fluctuations to be monitored over time.
“In short, the UAV will allow us to plan more effectively for the management and protection of koala populations in the future.”
He said the data obtained by the UAV could be used to enhance the existing council conservation plans in place in Elanora-Currumbin Waters, East Coomera and Burleigh Ridge, which were focused on koala welfare, habitat restoration measures and threat mitigation.
Although WQ Gold Coast branch president Sally Spain praised the new technology for its usefulness in tracking koala populations, she said it would be useless unless further action was taken by council.
“There’s no point in doing it unless they combine it with a breeding and nurturing process as well,” she said.
“We need to be planting eucalyptus feeding trees and maintaining connective corridors and dedicated plantations with the green levy collected from ratepayers, rather than focusing on koala mapping alone.”