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Can Unmanned Aircraft Stop Poachers in Their Tracks?

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Posted April 26, 2013

A daring experiment to use drone aircraft and intelligence tools against rhinoceros poachers in South Africa is being conducted at the University of Maryland. This wildlife conservation experiment is one of many peaceful uses of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being explored by governments, universities and the commercial sector. And it occurs as the U.S. FAA is beginning development of a comprehensive plan for integrating unmanned aerial vehicles into the national airspace.

Tom Snitch, Ph.D., an intelligence consultant and remote sensing expert based in Bethesda, Md., is executive officer of the United Nations’ Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring Systems, a visiting professor at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) and chairman of the Board of Visitors of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (CMNS). Snitch has organized a May 25 field test of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, for anti-poaching surveillance on a game reserve near South Africa’s Kruger National Park, the center of a deadly epidemic of rhino killings.

It will be the first time unmanned aircraft are combined with satellite imagery and sophisticated mathematical modeling to catch rhino poachers in the act.  The goal is to quickly mobilize game wardens to stop the poachers, who are illegally killing one black rhino every 11 hours for their horns, prized in traditional Asian medicine. Poachers have fought a series of bloody battles with government troops and private game wardens.

UMD Mathematicians, physicists, and artificial intelligence experts are sharing ideas with the anti-poaching team. Some of the techniques to be tested were developed by UMD. Computer Science Professor V.S. Subrahmanian used a similar algorithm to find Iraqi insurgents’ caches of bomb-making materials.

UMD faculty members are working on a range of other peacetime uses for unmanned aircraft, from rescuing lost hikers to controlling the spread of crop diseases. UMD aerospace engineers also are developing new types of UAVs; and the university is leading a state of Maryland effort to win a test site designation from the FAA for the integration of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the national airspace.

Source: University of Maryland

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