It flies over mountains and through valleys, taking in the vast landscapes and diverse wildlife beneath it. Only this isn’t a bird, it’s a drone.
They’ve had some bad press and the public has been slow to embrace them but after the final of what’s been dubbed “The World Cup of Drones,” things might be about to change. The aim of the year-long Drones for Good contest was to find positive technological solutions to fight modern day issues.
A group of UAE students won the national category for coming up with a practical idea for a drone to improve government services in the Emirates. Their entry, the Wadi Drone, was designed to help local authorities track the country’s diverse flora and fauna in remote desert and mountain areas, where sending a person to do it could harm the natural environment or even be a risk to the person’s safety. Wadi means ‘valley’ in Arabic.
Already – the Wadi Drone is making the work of conservationists easier. It’s being used in the UAE’s Fujairah’s Wadi Wurayah National Park and there are plans to expand it to other areas throughout the country.
Catching wild animals on film
Using commercial drone technology and proprietary software, it flies for up 40 km at a time over the UAE’s mountainous park, wirelessly downloading photographs from 120 camera traps on the ground that capture images of wild animals at the park as they pass in front of a motion sensor. It’s already snapped images of Blandford fox, Gordon’s wildcat, hedgehogs, Caracal lynx and goats.
Previously the data was collected twice a year, but with the introduction of the Wadi drone, data can be collected once a month. The drone will also make monitoring easier in summer months, as previously a helicopter had to be deployed when it was too hot to trek.
The Wadi Drone winning team is comprised of four NYU Abu Dhabi students: Martin Slosarik, Ting-Che Lin, Vasily Rudchenko, Kai-erik Jensen, advised by visiting instructor and research associate, Matt Karau. In developing the drone, the team joined forces with the Emirates Wildlife Society and the Wadi Wurayah National Park.
Martin Slosarik, studying electrical engineering at NYUAD, told Green Prophet: “We developed the idea for this project in careful consideration of where drones can and should exist to do good for the benefit of society. It is a great honor to win the national UAE Drones for Good Award,” he said.
The team plan to use the AED 1million ($273,000) prize to fully implement the Wadi Drone project in Wadi Wurayah National Park and they hope to expand it regionally and internationally.
Martin added that the greatest outcome of the competition was not the handful of winning ideas but “the fact that dozens of individuals committed months to develop innovative solutions that envision a world in which drones and humans harmoniously co-exist.”