Intel hopes new smart IoT cameras could put end to poaching epidemic

4 Jan 2019

The internal workings of the TrailGuard AI anti-poaching camera system. Image: Walden Kirsch/Intel

Intel has launched a new AI camera that can detect poachers entering wildlife reserves and alert rangers in near real time.

Despite the best efforts of wildlife reserve park rangers and national governments, poaching is still a massive problem, particularly with the hunting of elephants. Estimates suggest that an elephant is killed every 15 minutes by a poacher, resulting in 35,000 being lost every year.

The biggest problem for protecting elephants, gorillas, tigers and other endangered creatures is the sheer size of these reserves, with rangers often only finding out about a poacher long after they have killed an animal.

To help combat this, Intel has unveiled a new artificial intelligence (AI) camera – connected into a vast internet of things (IoT) network – that can detect poachers in near real time to alert rangers and hopefully stop a poacher before they kill.

Called TrailGuard AI, the camera was built on anti-poaching prototypes funded by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the National Geographic Society. The technology behind the camera uses Intel’s Movidius vision processing units in addition to running deep neural network algorithms for object detection and image classification inside the camera.

Can work for 1.5 years in the wild

If humans are detected among any of the motion-activated images captured by the camera, it triggers electronic alerts to park personnel. So far, Intel and the parties involved said that TrailGuard AI will be deployed in 100 reserves in Africa throughout 2019, starting with Serengeti and Garamba, with plans to expand to south-east Asia and South America.

“Reckless human activity is causing species loss and extinction on an unprecedented scale, with recent reports showing that as [much] as 60pc of all wildlife has been wiped out since 1970,” said Justin Winters, executive director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

“If illegal poaching of wildlife continues at the current rate, elephants are just one of the large mammal species that will be completely erased in our lifetime.”

The original TrainGuard camera was a simple motion-detection system, where rangers received multiple photos at a time when the alarm went off. This meant they had to manually review it to determine if there was a poaching threat or a false positive triggered by other motion.

Intel believes the TrailGuard AI device can last up to 1.5 years continuously, whereas older versions needed to be changed and maintained every four to six weeks.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic