A SCOTTISH artificial intelligence (AI) innovation has allowed, for the first time, real-time animal-human conflict to be identified.

The wildlife camera technology created by the University of Stirling with Dutch tech start-up Hack the Planet could benefit conservation, the university said, as it could detect poachers and prevent human-elephant conflicts that often happen in the African rainforest.

It said that the camera, which can detect different animal species and humans in real-time, has the potential to discover conflicts between people and wildlife, as well as illegal activities in protected areas, and provide live alerts to eco-guards.

“Trail cameras are regularly used in wildlife surveys to detect ecosystem threats but are often hampered in remote regions due to a lack of broadband connectivity.

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“Using AI-powered wildlife cameras could fix this issue by providing instant alerts without the need for WiFi, long-range radio or cellular coverage, helping better conserve, protect and restore ecosystems as a result,” the university went on.

A study the university and the start-up conducted, titled "Real-time alerts from AI-enabled camera traps using the Iridium satellite network: a case-study in Gabon, Central Africa", identified elephants and humans in remote areas of Gabon, where the technology was deployed.

It said: “The smart camera trap they have developed can immediately label images thanks to AI and, if necessary, send a warning to, for example, rangers or a village.

“The research shows that remote monitoring and offline analyses can be made reliably.

“It is the first time that such an innovative camera system has been rigorously tested under the tough conditions of a rainforest.”

The university said the combination of an AI model, ready-made camera traps and custom hardware with a satellite connection means it is possible to send real-time information to rangers from remote locations.

Dr Robin Whytock, the University of Stirling post-doctoral researcher during the study, said real-time data from smart cameras and other sensors could revolutionise how the world’s “most threatened ecosystems” are monitored and protected.

He said: “The advances made in this study show that real-time data could be used to make better decisions during time-critical situations.”

Tim van Deursen, Hack The Planet founder said the AI-powered camera technology can have a positive impact on nature conservation.

The National: An eco-guard, Tim van Deursen (centre) and and Thjis Seuten view the results of their AI enabled camera trapAn eco-guard, Tim van Deursen (centre) and and Thjis Seuten view the results of their AI enabled camera trap (Image: Floris Tils)

“Our solution does not depend on the installation of additional network infrastructure in the landscape and can be deployed in the field by non-experts anywhere in the world,” he continued.

By deploying this technology, Lee White, Gabonese minister of Water, Forests, the Sea and Environment, said fewer of their eco-guards will die and more poachers will be caught.

During the pilot in the Gabonese rainforest, the university said five camera systems took more than 800 photos in 72 days, of which 217 photos were of elephants.

The AI model achieved an accuracy of 82% in recognising elephants and rangers received an alert from the system within seven minutes on average.