Tech giant Microsoft has thrown its weight behind a QUT research project led by Australian Centre for Robotic Vision Associate Investigator Felipe Gonzalez that marries artificial intelligence (AI), flying robots and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef.
In ‘great’ cause for celebration, aeronautical engineer Associate Professor Gonzalez today steps up as one of the grant recipients of Microsoft’s US$50 million AI for Earth program.
Recognising projects that ‘use AI to address critical areas that are vital for building a sustainable future’, the grant will allow him to quickly process data from the reef using cloud computing services, saving weeks or perhaps months in data crunching time.
Professor Gonzalez, partnering with the Australian Institute for Marine Science (AIMS), has captured data from drones flying at 60m above the Great Barrier Reef at four vulnerable reef locations.
The Great Barrier Reef stretches 2,300km with about 3,000 reefs, making the challenge of monitoring the condition enormous.
“One of the greatest challenges in saving the reef is its size – it’s far too large for humans to monitor comprehensively for coral beaching and satellites and manned aircraft can’t achieve the ultra-high resolution that we can with our low-flying system,” said Associate Professor Gonzalez.
His drone system uses specialised hyperspectral cameras which, when validated using AIMS underwater data can not only identify coral against the background of sand and algae but can also determine the type of coral and precise levels of coral bleaching.
A standard camera detects images in three bands of the visible spectrum of red, green and blue. The hyperspectral camera, flying over the reef, uses 270 bands of the visible and near-infrared spectrum – providing far more detail than the human eye can see.
Associate Professor Gonzalez launched the first flight project 18 months ago, using the drones to analyse the health of four coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
He has processed about 30 per cent of the data the drones collected. The Microsoft AI for Earth grant will allow him to process the rest of the data quickly using Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing resources, including AI tools.
“You can’t just watch hyperspectral footage in the same way we can watch a video from a standard camera – we must process all the data to extract meaning from it,” he said.
“We’ve built an artificial intelligence system that processes the data by identifying and categorising the different ‘hyperspectral fingerprints’ for objects within the footage. Every object gives off a unique hyperspectral signature, like a fingerprint.
“The signature for sand is different to the signature for coral and, likewise, brain coral is different to soft coral. More importantly, an individual coral colony will give off different hyperspectral signatures as its bleaching level changes, so we can potentially track those changes in individual corals over time.”
Shelley Thomas, Communications Specialist
Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
P: +61 7 3138 4265 | M: +61 416 377 444 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
About The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is an ARC Centre of Excellence, funded for $25.6 million over seven years to form the largest collaborative group of its kind generating internationally impactful science and new technologies that will transform important Australian industries and provide solutions to some of the hard challenges facing Australia and the globe. Formed in 2014, the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is the world’s first research centre specialising in robotic vision. They are a group of researchers on a mission to develop new robotic vision technologies to expand the capabilities of robots. Their work will give robots the ability to see and understand for the sustainable well-being of people and the environments we live in. The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has assembled an interdisciplinary research team from four leading Australian research universities: QUT, The University of Adelaide (UoA), The Australian National University (ANU), and Monash University as well as CSIRO’s Data61 and overseas universities and research organisations including the French national research institute for digital sciences (INRIA), Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), and the University of Oxford.
Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
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