WWF's Conservation Innovation Awards

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E.T. find Kiwi ! Future waves for Futures ways

Elevated Radio-Tracking for kiwi (and other species) fitted with radio transmitters.

Use of a DRONE modified with an aerial and electronics suitable for flying over remote and difficult to access areas of wilderness to use directional radio finding to locate and record transmissions from various radio frequencies of transmitters being used in the field. 

The capabilities require the drone to fly unaided over uneven terrain. It can follow a grid until a signal is received. It must then be "smart" enough to track back using signal strength as an indicator to GPS the strongest signal output. If required it must then record the signal so that data can be derived from the radio. It should be able to scan across multiple frequencies. It will then return to base for recharging / data download etc. It must be robust and be capable of flying in a variety of weather conditions. This is the dream radio tracker.

D.A.R.T    Drone Aerial Radio Tracking  :  Future waves for futures ways.

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

There is a need to increase the efficiency of radio tracking of wildlife in natural habitats in terms of time, effort, costs, safety and effectiveness. Currently radio-tracking of wildlife is a huge undertaking and this subsequently limits its use in wildlife conservation projects. It would be of immense benefit if radio tracking could be more widely considered as part of a management tool by becoming more efficient. It is widely used in NZ and this improvement would make a huge difference.

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

 Flying above the canopy, the supplejack and the bluffs DART will locate our kiwi with pin point accuracy from just one launch. Data collected will give us the kiwi's location, and important data like how long its been incubating its eggs. We will need to make only one trip into the bush to collect the eggs for the Operation Nest Egg program. When our juvenile kiwi are returned to the wild we can track their movements to see where they end up, to see if they remain in a safe kiwi management zone.  The costs of managing our tracked kiwi will be greatly reduced. Time saved will be significant with fewer trips into the remote bush, more frequent information about our kiwi. Earlier detection of fatality which enables follow up so that important information is not lost.The use of Drone Aerial Radio Tracking (DART) is applicable across any project that uses radio-tracking; from frogs to falcon and from New Zealand to Alaska.

What makes your idea new and unique?

 We have a problem and other people have tried to solve that problem by inventing "mega" aerials or having to deploy light aircraft in searches for "lost" radio signals.This idea was borne out of need after talking to kiwi groups across New Zealand. What makes it unique is that it would not only solve our problem it would also improve the use of radio tracking for us and others.  DART would provide a whole new opportunity to improve the use of an already widely used tool in wildlife projects. 

Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?

Any project involving radio tracking of wildlife. For wildlife conservation projects significant improvements in information gathering. Reliability of being able to obtain information. Improved capabilities to process increased numbers of tracked wildlife within a project. Reduction in costs and time  for tracking. Sound construction would increase time windows for data gathering, currently restricted to fine weather.Happier volunteers and researchers, smarter conservation.

What tasks or activities do you need investment for? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

Bringing together people throughout NZ who have similar intentions. Instead of having several parallel developments, to consolidate efforts into formulating a sucessful DART to make available to communtiy projects. Three areas of expertise are required.1. Technical Expertise in Drone software and hardware. Development of drone specifications. 2. Adaptation of aerial for telemetry from drone, radio expert required.3. Development of electronic software for data recording and downloading, multichannel searches and guidance systems for grid searches and directional location finding.Cummulating in Field trials and use by wildlife conservation projects.

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?


I have read and agree to the Crowdicity Terms of Use, the Conservation Innovation Awards 2016 Supplemental Terms and Conditions, and the Crowdicity Community Guidelines


List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?

Lizards Tails - An excellent project with a fair emphasis to improve the status of some of our less"sexy" wildlife members of the NZ fauna, a demonstration of bringing conservation to smaller spaces.

Wild about NZ wildlife - We need all the tools we can use to encourage and manage our wild populations back to sustainability and dispersal back into habitats that were once occupied by them.

DroneCounts - I'd love to work with likeminded groups developing DART, this is a great start. The use of this type of technology and remote monitoring are steps towards a positive future for our endemic wildlife.

Traps,Rats and Stats - Kids are the future of all of our developments today. We need to invest in their minds, thinking and experience. This brings conservation into the heart of the learning experience and back to into homes.

Barcoding Whitebait - As much as I wish it were not necessary I can see a real need to help these baby fish become big ones and feed back into the wildlife food chain. An exciting development to help a tricky conservation issue. 

How could you improve your idea?

Input from the wide range of potential users of a DART system would allow brainstorming for further improvements and refinement of the specifications.To include elements of ease of use, range of functions, other additional applications such as incoorporating  other technologies and future proofing the development. Consideration of costs and how it could be made available to target users would be part of the development. These would all need to be considerations to make this the best of an idea as it could be within the limitations of budget and time. And paint it a bright colour.

edited on Oct 13, 2016 by Becky Wilson

Sheryl Petersen Sep 30, 2016

We have an un-fenced forest protected by predator trapping. Each release of juvenile kiwi is a nightmare of on going monitoring, finding and returning walking birds. One girl last season took 13 full volunteer days to find and return to the protected area. The problem is on going until they are breeding age and settle.. Some are lost and some are predated before we get them back.
We would also like to be able to check on some incubating boys daily as they have history of abandoning their nest early. A long drive and long walk daily is a big ask for unpaid volunteers.
Drone monitoring has been a joked about dream for our team since we began re introducing kiwi to build a viable population.
Sounds like you can make the dream come true.


Inge Bolt Oct 3, 2016

Sheryl has the typical case where DART would become and essential tool for conservation wildlife management. We have the technology available and this platform provides the perfect medium on which to launch the development of DART to specifically suit the circumstances relevant to radio tracking.


Inge Bolt Oct 5, 2016

Drone technology is developing rapidly, with pizza now being able to be dropped at your door step we need a slice of this to advance the current tracking methods for wildlife. In New Zealand radio tracking is used extensively across many endangered species to help learn more about their movements and to aid wildlife recovery.
Currently its done on foot or by plane. Most of our natural habitat is in steep and or remote which greatly hinders the ability to radio track effectively and efficiently.
Ask ANYONE who has done radio-tracking whether DART (Drone Aerial Radio Tracking) as proposed here would help them in their job - Let me know if the answer - YES.
This idea has been a dream concept of many groups and now we have a chance to bring radio tracking into the future. This will be a pioneer in its field, I will seek to get experts in their fields and develop a working model.
Currently I am aware of one PhD student who has this concept in his sights, but also still in the undeveloped stage. Working together will provide the solution.
Photos: tracking by plane - expensive and limiting
Tracking by foot: remote,topographically limiting, overnight expeditions to find "lost" kiwi.


Kevin Adshead Oct 6, 2016

Great idea for use of drones. They have been successfully developed for farming operations and will save a lot of time and energy.
There has been talk for some time of transmitters carrying GPS functions. Still issues with battery longevity, size and weight I understand.
Transmitters would need to be within cell-phone/GPS receiver coverage (Get Home Safe technology).
Another thought-maybe if there are enough transmitters on animals out in the bush then Celium Platform technology could be used as it is for traps.


Olivia Rothwell Oct 13, 2016

It would be great to look at a combination of methods for improving the efficiency of monitoring kiwi transmitters as current practices are too laborious. Using both Celium and drones to monitor difficult to reach areas could be a very reliable solution.


Puru John Oct 13, 2016

Absolutely, the better the combination of "tools" we have for monitoring an area the better. Ultimately its all possible, we are technically capable, however as so many of our applications have limited commercial opportunity there is not the funding to establish the prototypes and development - so at least we have a chance to improve our lot through awards like these. Celium certainly adds a another tool to the box.


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The Forest Bridge Trust Oct 6, 2016

Anything that saves the hours of footwork involved at the moment in tracking wildlife - it just makes sense. Good luck!


Inge Bolt Oct 7, 2016

Thanks, so true!


Lee Barry Oct 7, 2016

I wonder if there are other trackers of kiwi online here who can say how much use this invention might be in their work...?


Hans Pendergrast Oct 7, 2016

Using drones to track kiwi is a long held dream for our kiwi team. They're right behind this innovation. We're "keen as" to see this technology advanced. If you had one working and we got the funding together, we'd order one tomorrow (for same day delivery). Read comments from SMP.
Hans Pendergrast -- Chair -- Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust


Inge Bolt Oct 7, 2016

Absolutely, and we are just the kiwi users, I already have enquiries from researchers of Yellow Eyed Penguins, and there are the radio-tracked keas, and even ressearch about movements of stoat etc.....the sky is the limit - please share the idea with people in your group to help this become a reality! Thanks.


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John Sumich Oct 11, 2016

UAV are the way to go Our working prototype shows its versatility. [see photo DroneCounts] Programming to progress from detecting and locating one signal to many is our next step. Great to see others with same ideas.


Michele Frank Oct 12, 2016

Hi Michele one of innovation ambassadors, seems like your idea and the
"Drones count' might have some synergies, could be worth connecting with them


Inge Bolt Oct 12, 2016

...definitely a project of collaboration.


Trent Bell Oct 12, 2016

I am totally bought by this idea - also check out the other one with similar idea - hope you can work together. Two thoughts:

- you would (should) be able to use this technology to study the movements of introduced predators too, to get an idea on their range, habitat use, behaviour etc. For example, feral cats and weasels are very difficult to control - if you could catch a few of each and study their movement and behaviour, you may be able to get a better idea on how they move through their environment, and hence gain intelligence on where to position traps in general to pick up. Suppose a female predator is more likely to use watercourses - using drone technology to follow female predators around, you get an idea of how they use their environment, and can target females especially to reduce the breeding potential of the predator population.

- there's also the potential to use predatory animals as Judas agents, eg. plant a transmitter on pest species and follow them to their mates in the bush then eradicate the remnants of the population.

So, potential use is not just restricted to conservation value animals, but also for research on pest species too, with an eye on using the information for eradication campaigns.


John Sumich Oct 12, 2016

Totally and again bringing in another use of drones with thermal imaging it is actually possible to census possums in forest areas. Getting back to the radio transmission though drones are excellent to receive transmissions as most radio waves will spread in three dimensions from their source. The least interference occurs for that part of the transmission radiating vertically and therefore right up to where the drones fly!


Inge Bolt Oct 12, 2016

Absolutely, there is definitely future in this. DroneCounts - definitely want to hear from you, collaboration would be great. This effort will require expertise from a number of people.
There are so many potential applications as EckoGecko has elluded to.
Thanks for your comments, and support.


Trent Bell Oct 12, 2016

- Population census of possums, deer etc using thermal imaging.
- Counts of marine mammals, eg, seals hauling out along NZ's rugged coastline.
- Faunal surveys of inaccessible places, even.
Definitely many potential applications for wildlife management.


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