By Joel Goldberg
Counting penguins is hard work: at Cape Crozier, Antarctica, it takes scientists two full days to map the location of 300,000 nesting pairs of Adélie penguins, using hand-piloted helicopters and drones. Meanwhile, brutal winds, freezing rain and snow limit the flight windows for these laborious investigations.
Now, scientists have reduced that time to just 3 hours by equipping their drones with a new flight path algorithm. Previously, scientists flew single drones back and forth across strips of land, similar to the way you might mow a lawn or shave your beard. But POPCORN, as the new algorithm is called, automatically sets the route for multiple drones to pass over the same area in a fraction of the time, avoiding collisions and complying with strict airspace regulations.
The new program, which excludes the human pilot, was a more than 10-fold improvement over previous techniques, researchers reported last month in Robotic science. Additionally, the researchers captured breathtaking footage of the penguin’s movements (above), which change in response to changing sea ice patterns.
But penguins aren’t the only target of this new technology – the researchers hope that one day their program will help count livestock, or even help with fire management, as first responders will have the means to quickly assess the brush. vulnerable at the push of a button.