The sUAS Guide 2016 Q3 Update | Page 10

Kashmir World Foundation (KwF) recently hosted a Fly for Conservation Workshop at the Barrier Island Sanctuary in Melbourne, Florida in order to spread the word and educate others about MiSHELL - a fully autonomous sea turtle drone, and how it will impact sea turtle conservation. Local biologists, among many others, attended the workshop to learn how to fabricate and operate prototype of MiSHELL, and begin using it in real world applications for sea turtle surveillance. The three-day workshop included lectures on drone design, fabrication, operation, and customization for marine turtle conservation. The students also received hands on training, which gave them the knowledge necessary to build and operate the drone during the workshop. During the third day -- Flight Day -- students learned to fly the drones they had built and earned their Drone Operator Certificates. KwF drone operators also recorded videos of sea turtle tracks for use in training optical pattern recognition and recorded the thermal signatures of adult turtles and hatchlings for further development of night operations. The workshop was a tremendous success, and we are very confident that the use of drones will significantly enhance the current methods of sea turtle conservation.

“I have been involved with five KwF DaVinci Challenge: Build a Drone workshops. This was the first workshop where teams had an previously identified application need and addressed them with the help of a drone,” says Danny Wanna, UAS Engineer at KwF. “Building a drone can be a lot a fun and flying one is amazing, but it's the application of drones to solve real life problems that sustains my interest and enthusiasm.”

Surveillance of marine turtle nesting and hatching is most often done by people walking the beach at dawn, observing sea turtle tracks in the sand. Then following the tracks to nests created during the night. Effectiveness of this method depends on the number of beach

walkers, level of expertise, and degree of focus. For some nesting beaches this may be adequate, but for beaches subjected to heavy predation, recreational activity, remoteness, or poaching, significant benefits may be achieved through more timely surveillance. For most nesting beaches, beach walking surveillance will prove difficult to achieve or sustain.

“An important part of conservation work is to collect in situ data about animal behavior, which can be extremely exhausting and expensive.” says Gustavo Stahelin, a biologist with the Marine Turtle Research Group with the University of Central Florida. “Drones may be able to help reduce such efforts, and maximize coverage area and effectiveness.”

“When we physically walked the beach, it took approximately 30 minutes to walk a mile, and during this time, we only observed one nest and several hatchlings,” said Rob Thompson, an FAA licensed commercial pilot, Part 107 remote vehicle operator, and member of the Kashmir World Foundation Board. “The next day, I flew a drone to observe the same stretch of beach in less than five minutes. It’s easy to see that drones will save a ton of time during data collection, which will allow scientists to have more time to devote to research work and other conservation efforts.”

Drones have been around for more than 70 years, but they evolved quickly during that past few years with the introduction of high performance, low power consumption microprocessors developed for smartphones and tablets. Kashmir World Foundation (KwF) is a world leader in counter poaching efforts using the application of embedded systems -- microprocessors distributed throughout the drone -- to achieve a very high degree of autonomy. Drones also have benefited from the development of high performance single board computers. This enables onboard processing imagery and other data, eliminating the need for streaming large quantities of data to ground computers for post mission processing.

Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS), also referred to as drones, offer the potential for better timeliness, consistency, overall effectiveness, and more widespread application. Drones may be able to perform surveillance of marine turtle nesting throughout day and night under most weather conditions. Several groups have already demonstrated some capability using simple drones to stream video to ground operators.

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KwF has been working to design, fabricate, integrate, and operate “MiSHELL” - a fully autonomous, custom drone with the ability to collect and process data onboard. MiSHELL is being “trained” to perform the functions of human beach walkers, identifying and locating turtle tracks, following the tracks to locate nests, observing nests, and reporting on their location and condition. Additional pattern recognition and reporting capabilities will be added as required by the marine turtle research and protection community. The results of this project are expected to determine how effective and efficient drones could be in marine turtle monitoring programs. “Kashmir World Foundation’s mission is to empower users of the technology,” says Princess Aliyah Director of KwF, “by enabling biologists and researchers with education and hands-on training through the “Fly for Conservation” drone building and operating workshop.” KwF is excited to introduce “MiSHELL” and be part of the latest technological developments in sea turtle conservation.

Kashmir World Foundation is a nonprofit with a mission to solve real world challenges through collaboration worldwide and integration of art, science and technology. 

MiSHELL Drone is a project of KwF. The goal: detect, characterize and locate sea turtle tracks and nests and alert their condition and location to field biologists and volunteers. 

Monitoring Sea Turtle Activity with MiSHELL Drones

10 sUAS Guide / Q3 Update, October 2016