Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Something fishy's going on around here today.

Maxwell: Chag sameach, everyone!

Passover began Monday evening.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Be the Change: a Predator for predators

Today we join with bloggers worldwide 
to be the change for animals.

For many, the word drone evokes a Tom Clancy-like scenario. Who hasn't heard of the infamous Predator drone, used by the U.S.?  Indeed, unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs) have been flown by the military for years: used as surveillance, for surgical air strikes, even to deliver payloads to areas too dangerous for a human to venture.

What do you think of when you hear the word drone?
Photo credits: Left John Loo; Top right Israel Defense Forces; Lower right Lee, My Frozen Life

But there are uses for UAVs beyond these we so easily associate with them. In fact, UAVs are actively working to be the change for animals worldwide at this very moment.

There are 49 species currently on the World Wildlife Federation's Endangered and Critically Endangered Species lists.  Sadly, some now find their homes only in conservancies or zoos.

Male northern white rhino at San Diego
Animal Park. Photo: Public Domain.
The Northern White Rhino is one of them.  They are, in fact, believed to be extinct in the wild. In the words of Mother Nature Network, they are a species "on life support."

There are only seven northern white rhinos on the planet: five males and two females. Four of these are housed on 285 hectares at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Unlike the Northern White you see in the photo to the left, the rhinos at the conservancy have had their horns cut down, to reduce their attractiveness to poachers.

Rhino horns are a coveted luxury item in Vietnam, purported to do everything from cure cancer to increase virility. More expensive than cocaine, and more than double the price of gold per kilogram, rhino horn powder is a status symbol considered the "drink additive of millionaires." 

So you can imagine why poachers are one of the biggest worries at conservancies such as Ol Pejeta. And why they employ a rigorous set of security measures.

They have armed teams who patrol the conservancy's wide expanse, they have dogs trained to seek out poaching actvities, and they have fence attendants positioned every few kilometers along the conservancy's borders.

These types of security measures are SOP at a conservancy, where animals are targeted for death.

But in 2013, Ol Pejeta did something radically different. They added a new and innovative tool to the mix: the drone.

Team Airware, on the ground at Ol Pejeta
(Brian's the one in the middle)
Ol Pejeta turned to a San Francicso-based company to help them pioneer the use of drones to preserve and protect wildlife: Airware.

We just happen to have a very exclusive inside connection there:  Brian Richman, Airware's Flight Test Director for special projects and Lead Support Engineer.

He's family.  And he also recently returned from a two-week stint at Ol Pejeta.

A Tonk's Tale: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us (oh, and dad wants to know when you're coming home to visit, but we digress.)

So. We know what you're doing with drones, but can you enlighten our readers a bit? In many minds, the concept of a drone is a negative one.

Brian Richman:  I really think the negative connotation with drones stems from a lack of awareness.

An Airware drone, providing a bird's eye view
There are countless drone applications that help people.

Whether it's helping farmers get higher yields, aiding search and rescue efforts or providing first responders with a nearly instant bird’s eye view of a disaster zone, drones are being used in incredible ways.

As people see the positive impact commercial drones have on their lives, their perspective will change.

ATT: How has drone technology benefited animals - specifically, endangered animals?

Brian: For the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and other conservancies around the world, the benefit is the ability to get aerial information for wildlife conservation.

Due to the rough and expansive terrain of Africa, it is difficult to keep a close watch over these animals with ground vehicles and it is too expensive for conservancies to operate manned aircraft.

Drones can mount both thermal imaging & standard cameras. Telemetry
like this allows you to track wildlife movement & helps prevent poaching.

A great deal of attention has turned to drones as a solution to cover large amounts of ground quickly and cost-effectively. The drone aids in anti-poaching operations by providing surveillance to help rangers deploy resources in the most efficient way possible.

The team at Ol Pejeta watches as a drone returns to base.

ATT: Are there any other ways that drone technology might benefit animals? 

Drones can minimize the dangers that
search and rescue teams experience.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Brian: I think we're just beginning to see all of the benefits of drone technology.

Anti-poaching and wildlife conservation are ways our customers are using our technology today. Search and rescue is certainly an application for drones.

One of our other customers is using drones for search and rescue efforts in France.

I look forward to seeing the new ways people will find to use drone technology in the future.

ATT: Search and Rescue? We can see how this could be an invaluable help, especially in dangerous situations like avalanches and other disaster zones. Or in the wake of  Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, for instance.

We could imagine a drone being used to circle one of those areas with a mobile repeater station, providing much needed cell access to victims - and search and rescue teams - as they dealt with the immediate aftermath!

When do you anticipate the legal use of drones in the U.S.?

Brian: In 2015, the legal use of drones will begin under the small UAS rule. (That's the FAA's small unmanned aircraft systems Aviation Rulemaking Committee ~ editor's note.)

This will allow vehicles under 55 lbs, operating under 400ft, and within line of sight of the operator.


We thank Brian - and Airware - for this exclusive look into how drones benefit wildlife conservation and protect endangered species.

And we'll leave you, our readers, with a video of the drone's patrol of Ol Pejeta, as well as a question:

What do you think of drone technology with respect to our stewardship of this planet and the creatures inhabiting it?

We'd love to hear your thoughts in comments.

All photos used in this article copyright (c) Airware, except where otherwise noted.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy
Quartz Articles 1 & 2
Time Magazine: Ivory Trade Out of Control
World Wildlife Federation
Ol Pejeta Conservancy - Wikipedia
Scientific American
(and, of course, Brian himself  ;-)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Maxwell!

Maxwell: "So Faraday told me this was my party hat."

"Uh, I don't see a party going on up in there...."


 Happy #4 to our sweet
(okay, and maybe a bit gullible)


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