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Why drones are better at counting things than people




A University of Adelaide study has shown that drones are much better method of monitoring the number of wildlife in a given area than traditional (human) counting methods.

Artificial intelligence algorithms are slowly but steadily surpassing human abilities in many fields, ranging from transport and medicine to gaming and the creative arts.

In this particular experiment, Australian researchers, led by ecologist Jarrod Hodgson, set up an method of measuring the accuracy of the drones ability to determine the number of birds (fake ducks) compared to people.

A view of the fake birds from the drone. Credit: Jarrod Hodgson.

To do this, the team used a beach in Adelaide and laid down thousands of fake ducks in ten different colony formations. The numbers of birds in a given colony ranged from 460 to 1020.

A group made up of experienced wildlife researchers was tasked with estimating the number of birds in each colony using the traditional method: sitting in a spot far awwy from the birds (so as not to disturb them) and make a count using binoculars, telescopes and a grid estimation system. Up against them was a drone flying between 30 and 120 meters above the colony, snapping photos using a timelapse feature and being monitored by bird watchers, who would also make their own count. The researchers wanted to see which method of monitoring would result in a better estimation of the total number of birds.

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