10 big data & AI projects that could save our planet and its inhabitants

Environment   |   
Published January 17, 2019   |   

When we talk about climate issues and wildlife disappearing from the face of the Earth, most of us tend to shrug helplessly. It is because most of us these problems just seem too hard and too big to fix. But, the superheroes of today – the conservationists, scientists, and AI innovators are convinced that no problem is too big to fix if the technology, imagination, and data are put to work. That’s exactly what we are going to discuss in our today’s article – Data and AI projects that could possibly save the Earth from the impending doom.

The scientists and innovators across the world aim to create sustainable solutions across the key areas that are important for the health of this planet. They are – agriculture, biodiversity, water, and climate change.

Here are some early breakthroughs that could play an important role in saving our planet and its inhabitants.

Earth insights powered by HP

Big data analysis means collecting vast amounts of data from all sources, including tweets and images from common people and then analyzing it computationally to reveal trends, patterns, and association. A good example of such big data analysis is the collaboration between HP and Conservation International.

Earth Insights, which is an innovative collaboration between HP and Conservation International, uses technology to monitor biodiversity loss across the world’s tropical forests. With the help of millions of animal photos captured by hidden cameras, scientists can track how human activity, land use, and climate change has affected different species.

1.4 million Photos have been collected so far. HP uses its Vertica Analytics Platform, to analyze the collected data with great accuracy and at a faster rate. The camera data is processed to estimate species occupancy of a certain area.

Pop-up habitat – A new approach to bird conservation

The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a nonprofit has started an initiative called Bird Return, which collects and analyzes Crowdsourced data from birdwatchers. The data from NASA satellite imagery, eBird, and other sources is also analyzed to get accurate predictions about when flocks will arrive. Next, this data is overlaid with water maps to find out where exactly habitat is most needed. The nonprofit then buys the land for some time from farmers and then that land is flooded so that birds can nest, bathe, drink and rest while on their migratory journeys. This initiative is also helping farmers in a way because they get water for their crops, so it’s a win-win situation for both.

Intel’s anti-poaching rhino chip

About 1000 rhinos are killed every year in Southern Africa alone. To tackle the problem, Intel has built a credit-card sized Galileo board, with storage and 3-G communication features. This chip is affixed to the critically endangered black and white rhinos. The low power board also has a durable solar panel to recharge the board’s battery. Each collared rhino’s geo-location and movement data is encrypted to ensure poachers cannot get to it. A tiny RFID chip in embedded in each animal’s horn. If the Galileo board detects a break in proximity between ankle and horn, anti-poaching teams will spring into action to apprehend the poachers.

Artificial intelligence to study endangered species with speed and accuracy

Traditionally, the analysts collect and analyze thousands of images taken from drones, satellites, and camera traps in the wild. This data is used to study the populations, range, and behaviors of rare or endangered animals. It’s a very tedious task that takes time, skill, and concentration. But thanks to deep learning techniques, this laborious task can now be done easily, accurately and at a faster rate by computers. AI is being used to gain insights into species populations that had never been studied before. Presently, Artificial Intelligence is being used to study elusive snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia and dwindling elephant populations in Congo in Africa.

Project premonition using AI

Project Premonition is an ambitious project by Microsoft and US universities, which aims to detect pathogens before they cause outbreaks. In this project, AI is used to analyze blood that mosquitoes take from animals across an ecosystem to obtain valuable data. A robotic trap catches and conserves selected species, and then their blood is analyzed to identify dangerous strains of viruses using gene sequencing, data analytics, machine learning, and cloud. It can help fight the Zika virus, dengue, and other mosquito-borne diseases.

AI and drones are being used to save polar bears

With Arctic sea ice disappearing, scientists are doing all the best they can to save the polar bears that currently number only 25ooo around the world. As a part of such efforts, San Diego Global Zoo and Northrop Grumman Corp. are working together to develop autonomous hexacopter drones that will be used to monitor ice formation and polar bear behavior. These drones will be sent to Arctic Circle to study ice and bears in temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. It aims to monitor polar bears in their natural habitat at a scale not previously possible. The information thus collected will be analyzed with the help of Artificial Intelligence.

AI to accelerate conservation efforts

Artificial intelligence can be used to study land use patterns. Microsoft and other tech giants are working on technologies that could turn high-resolution imagery into land cover maps. By studying such maps, scientists will be able to get an unprecedented view of what is where and how our planet is changing. This will help governments, organizations, and scientists to most effectively deploy conservation efforts for the greatest impact.

AI for energy conservation

One of the biggest challenges of today’s world is – how to use energy efficiently. The inefficiencies result in wastage of valuable energy resources. This energy wastage not just causes energy crises but also cause serious climate changes.

Scientists around the world are increasingly using AI to learn patterns of energy use by times of day and night, by geography and by seasons. The information thus obtained is then used for efficient energy management, distribution, and storage.

For example: With the help of AI and machine learning, Google was able to cut its energy usage by 15 percent. The organizations across the globe can certainly take a cue from Google and do the same.

Climate and Big Data AI

Thanks to the modern technology, big data regarding climate can now be gathered from unlimited sources and then organized and presented to the scientists conducting studies on climate conditions all over the planet. Over time, scientists can detect the climatic changes to provide an accurate picture of the damage being done. This will enable the scientists to identify risk areas and vulnerabilities much in advance.

AI can help study the patterns and the results and provide accurate predictions of future vulnerabilities and potential damage.

Scientists can even use AI to test theories and potential solutions. For example, Green Horizon Project of IBM after data analysis, formulates predictions about pollution, and then actually tests scenarios for pollution control.

Early prediction of catastrophic weather events

Every year, many valuable lives are lost, and property is damaged due to catastrophic weather events. AI, through its ability to learn weather patterns, and common results from those patterns can enable people and governments to predict such events earlier so that proactive precautions could be taken. AI will even be able to predict its severity and duration, thus saving many valuable lives and resources.

Wrap up

The rise of the ‘intelligent’ technology has surely accelerated and enabled exciting possibilities to study and save the planet and wildlife in the remotest corners of the Earth. The success of such endeavors will, however, depend on coordinated efforts from the common people, governments, industries and the innovators of today and tomorrow.