October marks the completion of the successful Wildlife Advanced Monitoring Camera (WAMCam) project in collaboration with UK Space Agency, European Space Agency and Project Everest Ventures that had led to the development and launch of the Argonaut camera.
The project started in 2018 with a focus on empowering wildlife researchers and scientists with efforts to detect and protect species, such as the clouded leopard. Previously a very time-consuming, manual job involving daily treks to check animal traps, WAMCam now allows researchers to be notified when an animal is trapped and of which species. Researchers are studying animals in vast, remote areas with little infrastructure and connectivity. AI cloud solutions are simply not an option for many locations as they require extensive communications infrastructure. In contrast, edge-AI allows algorithms to be processed locally without the need for internet or cloud connection. WAMCam devices using edge-AI allows animal traps to be placed anywhere regardless of satellite visibility constraints. In turn, this means researchers can manage many more traps and deploy them to more suitable locations, further away from base camp, dramatically improving the size and effectiveness of population studies.
As the WAMCam project developed and technology matured, focus turned to the persistent global problem of poaching. Today, poaching threatens not just the survival of endangered species and dependent ecosystems, but also the economic livelihood of people near to national parks and protected areas dependent on revenue from tourism. In Africa, tourists are desperate to see the ‘Big Five’ in action (the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and the African buffalo) and a loss of species diversity from poaching is greatly harming the sustainability of these parks. It is impossible for rangers on foot to patrol every inch of these vast, remote areas every hour, allowing poachers to exploit known schedules and covertly attack.
The project has led to the development and launch of Argonaut, the new, upgraded camera model from Archangel Imaging. Using Argonaut with the Cerebella® mission management platform, security teams at national parks and protected areas have cut response time to poacher sighting from 1-2 hours to a matter of minutes. When a poacher is detected by Argonaut, an alert is sent via the Cerebella® app and the nearest park ranger can be tasked to respond. Satellite communications have been crucial in the WAMCam project for the deployable intelligence to send Cerebella® alerts over low bandwidth.
We would like to say a big thank you to the UK Space Agency, European Space Agency and our partners in Africa, Project Everest Ventures (PEV), for your excellent support. In the context of a global pandemic making us unable to travel to site ourselves, it would have been impossible to meet our objectives without the brilliant help on the ground from the PEV team. The WAMCam project was part of a demonstration project through ESA Space Solutions.