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    Date submitted
  • 06-May-2018

Project Toroa


Using advanced drone surveillance technology and artificial intelligence to provide continuous monitoring of wildlife population around NZ.

Additional Questions

Who is your customer?

The proposed Drone/AI assisted monitoring technology is a compelling case for the wildlife monitoring for the conservation effort in New Zealand. Currently, the Department of Conservation spends over $1 million per quarter on searching and monitoring of Maui dolphins. Based on our expertise in finance and Drone Technology, our internal estimation suggested that our concept can easily reduce this cost by 66% and increase the likelihood of spotting dolphins tenfold.

What problem does this idea/product solve or what market need does it serve?

Maui Dolphins are unique to New Zealand and are found on the West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand. With less than 60 living individuals, they are categorized as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Previous studies and observations suggested that their numbers have declined dramatically over the past decade. Part of the problem may be due to commercial fishing in their breeding area. However, lack of advanced continuous monitoring method with precise geolocation functionality means our understanding of their natural habitat and behaviour remain limited. Presently, the Department of Conservation (DOC), Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), and World Wild Fund (WWF) jointly conduct surveillance programme to monitor Maui Dolphins. This consisted of spending millions of dollars and thousands of fruitless hours searching for Maui Dolphins by leasing expensive twin-engined aircraft and having up to 5 researchers onboard the aircraft trying to spot dolphins using binoculars and naked eyes. The vibration and confined space on the aircraft significantly limited the use of camera system onboard . Without solid proof of Maui dolphins breeding activity over existing fishing area prevents law or policy changes to protect Maui Dolphins.

What attributes will make this idea/product successful? Why do you believe that those features will create success?

The Long-Range Drones we will acquire through external supplier has a fixed wing design with a wingspan of 4 metres. Four symmetrical vertical propellers allow it to perform vertical take-off and landing from the shoreline or from a boat without the need for landing strip. It has a cruise speed of 90km/h with the maximum endurance of up to 6 hours flight time each mission. The open architectural gimble system can provide imaging stabilisation with our choice of camera equipment including both real-time video and infrared video transmission. We propose coupling two emerging technologies: Ultra Longe-Range Autonomous Surveillance Drones and Artificial Intelligence Assisted Imaging Recognition and Geolocation to provide continuous monitoring of Maui Dolphins. The drone is also fully automated means that once the flight course has been designated using GPS coordinates, it will conduct the mission without the need for hands-on piloting. The operators can spend more time monitoring the surrounding air traffic through real-time video feedback and VHF radio.

Explain how you (your team) will execute to make this idea/product successful? What gives you (your team) an advantage over others already in the market or new to this market?

We have built a good relationship with a drone supplier who will be leasing the drones at below market price in return for publicity of the venture. We also have a relationship with a team of Artificial Intelligence researchers who have already partly developed the technology – they agreed free access to the technology during the initial proof of concept phase. We have a great working relationship with A/Prof Rochelle Constantine from the University of Auckland who is New Zealand’s acknowledged expert on the Maui Dolphin. She is very supportive of our concept and will be giving us continual guidance and linking to DOC and MPI. We will require some seed money to kick off our first flights and conduct a proof of concept; this will give us some footage which will then be sent to our AI team who can begin to process the video.Once we have this proof of concept, we will be in a strong position to ask for further funding from the Department of Conservation for full annual funding/research grant of the project and apply this to another area of business opportunity – Commercial whale watching, NZ police, NZ custom service and coast guard.