Drones used to track wildlife

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) and The University of Sydney (USYD) have developed a world-first radio-tracking drone to locate radio-tagged wildlife.

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) and The University of Sydney (USYD) have developed a world-first radio-tracking drone to locate radio-tagged wildlife.

The system has been tested by tracking bettongs at the Mulligan’s Flat woodland sanctuary in Canberra.

The drones have successfully detected radio transmitters weighing as little as one gram, said Dr Debbie Saunders, the lead researcher at ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.

The robot consists of an off-the-shelf drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The custom-built miniature receiver and antenna provide real-time information on radio-tracked wildlife, which are mapped live on a laptop.

“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,” Saunders said.

The University of Sydney, Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) researcher, Oliver Cliff, said the technology has generated international interest.

“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,” he said.

“We have done more than 150 test flights and have demonstrated how the drones can find and map the locations of animals with radio tags,” he added.

The system is funded by an ARC Linkage Project Grant and Loro Parque Foundacion. It has been built and tested over the past two and a half years with Dr Robert Fitch and his team at the ACFR at the University of Sydney.

ANU associate professor, Adrian Manning, also from the Fenner School of Environment and Society, has helped the team by attaching VHF and GPS collars on bettongs at Mulligan’s Flat.

“Radio tracking of collars manually is very time consuming. Early indications are that the drones could save a huge amount of time,” Manning said.

“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,” he added.

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