The facial recognition function on our digital cameras doesn’t only detect human faces, it can also be used to track the world’s endangered animals, like tigers! Simply download an app, game it and match a real wild tiger.
Tigers are seriously threatened due to poaching for the illegal wildlife trade and losing habitats because of climate change. When global numbers dwindle down to 3,000 individual tigers, scientists are like ants on a hot pan, rustling up new ways to better document tigers and count their numbers. This work relies upon a fair amount of luck and takes an enormous amount of time.
Two passionate wildlife conservationists Aaron Mason and Paul Krause from the University of Surrey have come up with a new approach to protecting wildlife, using facial recognition technology to help identify and keep tabs on individual endangered animals and improve world knowledge of animal behaviour. Aaron developed the project Wild Sense as part of his PhD project. It features an app for iPads that pulls tourist photos from social media and content sharing platforms such as Flickr and Instagram. The team also set up a camera trap in India and the UK to take pictures of tiger movements. The photo data is then processed using facial recognition technology and location data to compile a more complete census of tigers in the wild.
“Each tiger has a unique stripe pattern — it’s like a fingerprint or a barcode,” says Mason.
With a goal to promote Citizen Science, the project encourages you and I to contribute to saving tigers by playing their game (download from iTunes) and uploading pictures that feature a wild tiger (taken anywhere) or pulingl photos from your photo albums and then “tagging” the tiger by drawing a box around its face. A technique called “artificial intelligence algorithms” is then applied to process the photo data. You can also add a location or other information about the photo. For example, how many tigers are in the image, what are the tigers doing and what is their environment?
The app was launched last month and has been downloaded thousands of times. Check out Wild Sense’s blog to stay updated with what they have been up to.