Koalas to be counted by drones for survey

Ninox Robotics founder and managing director Marcus Ehrlich and chief operating officer Steve Schultz with a Perimeter 8+ long range multi-rotor platform.Photo by Sarah Keayes/The Photo Pitch

In the next eight weeks, a drone will be collecting thermal imagery of koalas in the Woodenbong area.

Australian drone operator Ninox Robotics will use a longwave infrared camera to spot the koalas.

Ninox Robotics’ new camera will be integrated into its drone platform (for the techies that’s a Skyfront Perimeter 8+ long-range drone) to detect koalas’ unique thermal signature.

The thermal imagery will be collected using different flight methods and camera configurations to find the most effective way of identifying and quantifying koalas. This will provide a blueprint for improving the state’s ability to accurately survey larger portions of the koala population and measure how they adjust over time.

Ninox Robotics managing director Marcus Ehrlich said koalas were notoriously difficult to count.

This was because of their tendency to be camouflaged in trees in their natural habitat.

“Using endurance drones equipped with high-resolution thermal cameras and operating beyond visual line of sight – even in previously inaccessible areas – we can provide accurate and cost-efficient assessments of koala populations and assist the NSW Government’s ambitious program to double the state’s number of koalas,” Mr Ehrlich said.

Ninox Robotics is undertaking koala surveys with its new camera in the second phase of its response to the Koala Count Challenge.

Given the decline in the koala population, that was exacerbated by the 2019-20 bushfires, Environment and Heritage is seeking methods for accurately measuring the changes in population over time to inform conservation efforts.  

Following on from this project, Ninox Robotics aims to scale up operations by utilising the same thermal cameras on larger fixed-wing drones. This will allow the company to drastically increase the feasibility and cost-efficiency of surveying koala populations across much larger areas.

As part of this current project, the company will need to detect and classify other species to confidently identify koalas. These non-target species may include animals that are endangered or of interest to other projects. Following on from its application for surveying koala populations, Ninox Robotics plans to use its new camera for further conservation work for other threatened species such as the greater glider.

The information in this report was provided by Ninox Robotics.

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