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Autonomous drones count Antarctic penguin colonies in record time

Autonomous drones count Antarctic penguin colonies in record time

Counting penguins is a difficult job. Research scientists need two full days to map the location of 300,000 nesting pairs of Adélie penguins on Antarctica’s Cape Crozier, using helicopters and hand-flown drones. Additionally, the flight windows for these labor-intense surveys are constrained by harsh temperatures, freezing rain, and snow. Now, with special software and autonomous drones, they can cut down the survey time of wildlife to a mere three hours.

Autonomous drones count Antarctic penguin colonies in record time

By equipping their drones with a new flight path algorithm, scientists have cut the duration to just 3 hours. They previously piloted single drones over swaths of land back and forth, but a new algorithm, called POPCORN automatically sets the path for several drones to fly over the same area in record time, preventing collisions and complying with strict regulations for airspace.

In ‘Science Robotics’ last month, researchers announced the latest program with autonomous drones, was a more than a 10-fold improvement on previous techniques.

Researchers hope that one day their software will help count animals, or even help with wildfire control, as first responders would have the means to easily analyze fragile brush by pressing a button, according to Science Magazine.

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