WWF's Conservation Innovation Awards

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The idea is to have an aerial drone that can detect and locate the radio signals from a bird or animal that has an attached radio frequency transmitter.  A prototype has been deployed already capable of detecting one signal but the goal is to be able to sequentially detect, differentiate and locate several such signals

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

Monitoring radio signals with current techniques has several drawbacks Traditional hand held receivers can be difficult to use in dense bush; getting to sites can be difficult or dangerous; the presence of deep valley systems can interfere with signals; nearby hills and ridges can create reflected back shots to add to the confusion. Again, detecting nocturnally active species might be more difficult if the animal is in a daytime den that reduces the effective transmission of the signal.  [eg kiwi] The use of fixed wing planes to detect radio signals is very expensive and usually limited to daylight hours.  Some weather conditions limit the use of fixed wing aircraft.

An aerial platform can eliminate or reduce the above problems; drones can easily fly over dense forest, over wide wetlands, over savannah and can be night operable. They are a fraction of the cost of fixed wing monitoring and can fly in some weather conditions unsuitable for fixed wing aircraft 

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

A working prototype tracking one transmission has been developed [see a Youtube of the prototype named “Duckatron” on the Habitat te Henga Facebook page September 2015] and concepts have been developed for the next step of how to pass over sites where several individuals with transmitters are to be monitored detecting the multiple signals and locating those individuals. The initial problems of differentiating the radio signals needed to fly the drone from the radio signals fro the transmitter on the animal have been sorted. The locations could be stored on board to then be down loaded on return or it could be transmitted to a base unit while aloft.

What makes your idea new and unique?

UAV, [" drones"] are commonplace in monitoring many species of birds or animals with camera and are particularly useful as they can pass overhead without creating anxiety or avoidance behavior but so far no effective RF tracking of multiple transmissions has been developed.


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

Our drone idea arose when we were monitoring translocated pateke in a dense wetland and the difficulties of access, backshots etc became apparent. It was immediately obvious that the idea of monitoring by drone would have many applications beyond the one species. Local managers of kiwi populations have expressed great interest and we even had an enquiry from a South African anti-rhino poaching group. They were disappointed to find we were still at the developmental stage.  Monitoring by drone could therefore even have an international value for a great range of species.  Drones then could be used over difficult terrain, could monitor at night, and at far lesser cost than some current methods.

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

The next stage of the program is to enable multiple signals to be rapidly sequentially analysed and located. This requires some considerable programming  

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?

Celium: A reduction in manhours checking traps would be great


Wasp wipeout: Having ben involved inthe first NGO to us fipronil  can appreciate the idea of large scale control


Immersive Conservation: Not all kids can have accs to the wonderful variety of natural habitat we have in NZ. Virtual reality might be a way to insill the ownder pf some of these habitats


 Bay Conservation:  Groups always struggle ith managemnt shotrtfalls  more than volunteers or hardware so combining grou

How could you improve your idea?

 developing radio becons at perimeters of a asearch are so that the drones can lock on to these and can folow a pre-programmed grid pattern search for the radio signals form the transmitter carrying animals or birds

edited on Oct 19, 2016 by Becky Wilson

Tui Nature Reserve Wildlife Trust Oct 11, 2016

Having been involved with predator control for a long time we can see a great benefit in using drones in the fight against the predators. We definitely support an initiative to improve monitoring with the use of drones.


Peter Fraser Oct 11, 2016

This is the future of monitoring - more efficient than current methods and ultimately more cost effective!


Inge Bolt Oct 11, 2016

hi, we need to collaberate -


Inge Bolt Oct 11, 2016

d a drone


Inge Bolt Oct 11, 2016

Hi We need to collberate!


Inge Bolt Oct 11, 2016

for e.


Inge Bolt Oct 11, 2016

Hi It would be great if we could collaberate as we have almost the same project - see E.T find kiwi! Absolutely there is a need for this advancement in tracking. Lets do it! Great to see you have made a start. Regards Inge


Michele Frank Oct 12, 2016

Hi Michele one of innovation ambassadors, seems like your idea and the
"E.T. find Kiwi ! Future waves for Futures ways' might have some synergies, could be worth connecting with them


Trent Bell Oct 12, 2016

A nice idea using drones for tracking animals - I have done radio tracking, and found it very effective in locating animals to within 1m. Drones would increase the capacity. Could be tricky under closed canopy forest, you'd have to fly over the forest and get a general fix on the location, but if that was all you needed (i.e. keep an eye on the whereabouts of an animal, and see if it's moving - i.e. alive) then that would save a lot on time and labour checking on individual animals. You have my vote. I will check out the E.T. one too, could also get my vote too - would like to see joint collaboration/funding if both projects essentially v. similar.


Inge Bolt Oct 12, 2016

Yes flying above the canopy is the only way and also produces the best line of sight, therefore it becomes very effective. See entry already under E.T find Kiwi.


John Sumich Oct 12, 2016

Thanks Trent. Radio tracking is not the only possible use of drones and we have looked into thermal imaging using infra red sensors. This is actually relatively easy and I sadly missed out on funding to trial this use of drones to monitor bitterns


View all replies (2)

Olivia Rothwell Oct 13, 2016

Quick question, what is the flight time for your drone? Drones are definitely proving to be an innovative solution for many wildlife protection/monitoring applications.


Michele Frank Oct 13, 2016

Hi John don't forget to complete the next step of the process

You must answer two more questions in your idea submission form to pass this last milestone:

List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?
How could you improve your idea?
Click on the "Edit your idea" button in the milestones window above your challenge to access your original post and answer the additional questions. You can also click on "Edit" in the "Author's tools" bar above your idea to edit your submission.

Make sure you make it through to final judging.



AaronT Oct 14, 2016

Hi, how do you think such technology would fit with the rapid advances in GPS telemetry systems? I would be concerned that while contributing to currently applicable technologies, this may become redundant.


Michele Frank Oct 17, 2016

HI great idea , Can you please provide a link to the you tube footage of your drone.
Just checking with you around the CAA rules for remotely operated aircraft and wondered if you had considered how they will impact the application of your drone innovation e.g.;
The CAA rules (https://www.airshare.co.nz/rules) state you be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (eg, not through binoculars, a monitor, or smartphone) to ensure separation from other aircraft (or use an observer to do this in certain cases), and you can fly only in daylight.

What distance can your drone fly with the receiver attached? How well does the drone Handle flying with the weight of the receiver and aerial?
How sensitive is the receiver? How close to the to the transmitter does it need to be to pick up a signal?


John Sumich Oct 18, 2016

Hi Michele
I have sent a clip of the prototype to Becky and am now looking at your questions.

yes the CAA rules are well known to my drone manufacturer whose main drone interest is in Search & Rescue [eg his drones went to Nepal post earthquake and Vanuatu post cyclone] Our trials were done in a RNZAF flight exclusion area and as there are not many flights there he gets permission to test his drones from the Air Force. He feels that the issue of line of sight as current may be changed in specific circumstances as will need to happen with S&R for example. Similarly night flying in special circumstances: this would be aided by having fixed beacons that a drone would navigate by as it performed its grid search. We feel that exploring the technology must come first as we see this use is not the same as the off the shelf joy rider drone. Discussion would need to be had with CAA. In the meantime, many conservation sites could well be serviced in a line of sight way.

The prototype drone has a flying time of 20 minutes but could do 12-14 flights per day As you'll see in the video the drone handles a receiver easiy as the drone was was designed to carry that specific type of aerial.

I will close at this point and answer the remaining part of the question later as if I go into my emails from my drone man I'll lose this text and have to start again! Cheers


John Sumich Oct 19, 2016

The sensitivity is not the problem , radio waves spread out in 3 dimensions from a source and the least interference is in that portion that are transmitted vertically. The difficulties lie in differentiating multiple signals and sending them back to a land based systems manager

[2] How close to the transmitter does it need to be to pick up a signal?

The drone operating system can function considerable distances from the drone operator who is using radio signals to fly the drone and in a similar way radio signals from a transmitter can be picked up at a distance. The signals from the transmitters on our pateke are routinely picked up from the hand held receivers at a kilometre distance and the aerial is the same as the one attached to the drone.


View all replies (2)

Michele Frank Oct 19, 2016

Additional Feedback from John
1/ Sensitivity may be assisted by the software/autopilot development which would allow fine tuning by 3 dimensional positioning shifts of the aircraft (receiver/antenna) to obtain the best possible reception.

2/ The pilot in charge (PIC) can operate the UAV out to around 3km in reasonable conditions. Enough to allow the pilot to see the "airspace around the aircraft". Exceptions can be obtained via the CAA for specific missions, whereby we would pursue a "restriced airspace" (particularly for night ops). The software development would be to allow the autopilot to "automatically" carry out appropriate flight paths to maximise flight paths. It will also allow the "targets" to be located on the flight plan with specific gps coordinates.