Comprehensive monitoring of rural areas and their natural habitat: Measure of environmental impacts

Comprehensive monitoring of rural areas and their natural habitat: Measure of environmental impacts

The aim of the project is to design and develop a system that allow to survey the environment through the analysis of data obtained by unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The specific aims of the project are:

1. Using UAVs to locate and track wildlife marked with VHF transmitters and dataloggers

VHF transmitters are cheap and allow biologist to remotely monitor wildlife with enough accuracy. However, the location of marked animals is a tedious task since the user must locate the individuals from three different positions, which in addition have to be in perpendicular direction and at sufficient distance from the marked animal. Moreover, when the user and the marked animal are both at the ground level (e.g. in the case of monitoring terrestrial vertebrates), the VHF radio signal is influenced by the landscape, experiencing multipath and high losses of signal, which means greater investment of time for wildlife monitoring.

Datalogger devices allow storage a large amount of physiological and/or behavioral data of the marked animals. Most of the datalogger devices do not have capacity to transmit data wirelessly, so animals have to be captured to obtain the stored information. However, capturing the animals may be a tedious task and alters their normal life, as being an invasive method. Currently, there are devices capable to send data using mobile network (if the animal is in a coverage area), but these are very expensive and involve high annual costs due to the quota service of the online data access.

The use of UAV may offer substantial advantages over traditional methods in both scenarios. In the case of VHF-based geolocation, the position in the air of UAV allows a rapid operative and reduces signal losses. Regarding datalogger devices, the use of UAV will allow to collect data more quickly and efficiently than traditionally, without interfering with the animal’s life.

2. Development of a software to characterize power line supports using visual images gathered by UAVs

The interaction between birds and transmission lines or towers causes high environmental costs. Birds crashed with the wiring or electrocuted on pylons, which is a major threat for endangered species since loss of individuals may have important demographic consequences. Besides the environmental costs, this phenomenon causes a substantial monetary budget, resulting from the damage of the lines. Several measures have been proposed to reduce the number of bird-line collisions, either before (e.g. routing the line, burying the wiring) or after (burying the wiring or eliminating the earth conductor) the construction of the lines. However, these solutions usually require significant economic and time investments.

In this project, we propose the use of UAVs to inspect, characterize (according their riskiness for wildlife) and georeferencing electricity pylons. The basic performance of UAVs, equipped with imaging systems and video, will allow to survey transmission lines quickly and efficiently. The images will be later processed and analyzed using ad hoc developed software that identifies the type of pylon automatically.

3. Development of software to automatically survey wildlife using images gathered by UAV

Wildlife surveys and census are mainly conducted by biologists situated at the ground level, which is a time consuming task and may leads to errors in the estimates. Further, the areas monitored are usually very limited due to the effort required for this task, especially when the area to survey is of difficult access. Aerial surveys have been frequently used as an alternative to terrestrial census. However, the use of planes, although relatively effective, is expensive and potentially dangerous. Finally, satellite observation is not suitable for census, since the images obtained do not provide sufficient spatial and temporal resolution.

This project proposes the use of UAVs, equipped with a digital high-resolution camera loaded with cameras, to survey wildlife. The images gathered by the UAV will be later processed and analyzed using ad hoc developed software that will allow to census automatically the animals appearing in them. The project has a high degree of innovation by offering a complete solution for wildlife surveys.

Figura 1. Localización de animales marcados con transmisores VHF (azul) mediante el uso de UAVs (triángulos naranjas)

Figura 2. Vista aérea de un apoyo

Figura 3. Apoyo detectado y clasificado por el software

Figura 4. Preparación de la ruta (waypoints) del UAV

Figura 5. Imagen de una colonia de gaviotas picofinas (Larus genei) tomada por el UAV

Figura 6. Censo automático de los individuos

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