July 2, 2008

Intelligent Surveillance System Created

British scientists say they've developed technology that will revolutionize the quality of species population data available to ecologists.

The University of Bristol researchers said the non-intrusive, intelligent visual surveillance technology can enable biologists to remotely identify and monitor large numbers of endangered animals, from butterflies to whales.

The new system using computer vision and human biometrics techniques is now employed on Robben Island in South Africa, capturing detailed data on the population dynamics and social behavior of an endangered African penguin species (Spheniscus demersus).

The project has focused on those penguins because their numbers have declined from more than a million at the start of the last century to fewer than 170,000 today. The penguin population on Robben Island is nearly 20,000 and conventional tagging techniques can only monitor a few percent of the population.

Professor Peter Barham, who originated the project, said not only will the system that uses intelligent pan-tilt-zoom cameras with infrared imaging improve data available to ecologists and conservationists, but it will also negate the need to expose animals to the stress of capture or the side-effects of marking.

The system was displayed this week in London during the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition.