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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Intelligent Designers, vol. 3

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, June 21, 2018/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, video, space science, marine life, sustainability, art and design, environment, adventure

We offer occasional commentary featuring the work of Intelligent Designers, those creatives who see a problem as a opportunity and design a solution by applying new technology. Three new examples are noteworthy.

1.Invasive species control: Queensland's Great Barrier reef is facing a massive invasion that isn't coming from tourists but an invasive species. The reefs have lost nearly half of their coral cover since the 1980's and 50% of this loss was due to marine invaders, the Crown of Thorns, a starfish. The creatures can devour more than 100 square feet of living coral per year and there are millions if not more on the GBR. The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) has been actively investigating effective control methods for the stars. One approach looked particularly promising when a copper solution was injected directly into the starfish by AIMS divers. Unfortunately, this method requires a human to individually inject the stars that are widely spread across the reefs. Enter designers who created an intelligent robot with computer vision and equipped with an injector system for the control agent. The stars don't stand a chance against the diligent bots that can freely roam day or night hunting and eliminating the noxious invaders.

     Crown of Thorns invasion and resulting reef destruction, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland (credit: AIMS)

Computer vision and robotic injections to control starfish ( QUT )

2. Rolling & tumbling explorers: Investigating planets and moons is currently done using orbiting satellites and expensive rovers. A new approach that is both a simpler and cheaper alternative could vastly expand the volume of space knowledge gathered. It could be done using small bouncing explorers crammed with sensors the size of a cantaloupe. Welcome the Hedgehog an autonomous robot that can roll around on any foreign landscape no matter how difficult the terrain. Designed by the designers at JPL, Stanford, and elsewhere, the 'out of the box' Hedgehog mimics the ability of the biological version and can roll into a ball for protection. The electronic version has interior flywheels that spin the device across a surface no matter its texture or position. The robot continuously collects data and imagery as it goes along and the new explorer is in Phase II demonstration trials. Hundreds, if not more, of the tiny, cheap explorers might be deployed to Mars, Europa, Titan, or anywhere else, fascinating but now inaccessible, within a few years.

                 Artist's concept Hedgehog robot  (credit: JPL/Caltech and Stanford University)

Future Exploration with Hedgehog robots created by JPL & Stanford

3. Wildlife drones: Sharp wildlife researchers are beginning to employ modified aerial drones to count wildlife numbers and monitor endangered species, track illegal poaching, and otherwise gather important ecological and wildlife conservation information. The bots have more important wildlife applications than there are trained pilots, currently. Camera traps or trail sensors have been important for silently observing wildlife movements but they are stationary tools. Aerial drones, outfitted with powerful high-resolution video cameras, offer vastly improved abilities to follow animal movements over rugged and remote terrain. A new organization was created by existing pilots from the USA, Australia, Switzerland, and the UK, Conservation Drones, to assist over-stretched park managers, expand their knowledge, and utility. The importance of these new devices is already unobtrusively changing wildlife biology programs.

                          Robotic Aerial Drone with Video Camera Monitor Demo  (credit: Riled Up)

Wildlife Photographer using Drone with Hi-Res Video Camera, Africa

These designers are using their creative thinking and sharp skills to apply new technologies to problem solving. Certainly, the list of problems needing to be solved is vast and we need many more of these clever folks to think and design 'outside the box'.



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