AI software helps researchers focus on learning OC wild animals – Orange County Register

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Newly implemented artificial intelligence software is helping conservation efforts in Orange County by improving the processing of images captured on wildlife cameras, allowing researchers to focus on information rather than photos of wildlife. animals in their natural habitat can reveal.

The software can more quickly sort through images from the nearly 100 heat or motion-triggered cameras monitored by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, filtering out what experts call “false-triggered photos,” or images that aren’t not actually animals or humans, but snapped because a leaf or other movement triggered the camera, said IRC project manager Rachel Kenny.

“Our analysts were spending a lot of time going through these photos that didn’t contain wildlife,” Kenny said. Instead, she said the software can detect what’s in each photo, labeling it as a vehicle, human or wild animal. “It’s very effective.”

While software that can essentially learn as you go, called MegaDetector by Microsoft, is not new technology and the coding has been open source, it has been inaccessible to many small organizations due to the large amount amount of computer processing power needed to run it, says Kenny. But this year, IRC leaders won a $5,000 grant through Microsoft’s AI for Earth program.

Kenny said their team can now sift through tens of thousands of wildlife camera photos per day, transforming the scope of data and research they can track or conduct. The software has been in use since January, she said.

  • New artificial intelligence software is helping sort through footage from dozens of cameras in wilderness areas in Orange County, aiding the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in its research. (Courtesy of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy)

  • A coyote is photographed by a remote camera.  New...

    A coyote is photographed by a remote camera. New artificial intelligence software is helping sort through footage from dozens of cameras in wilderness areas in Orange County, aiding the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in its research. (Courtesy of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy)

  • A remote camera captured this image of cougars on...

    A remote camera captured this image of moving cougars at night. New artificial intelligence software is helping sort through footage from dozens of cameras in wilderness areas in Orange County, aiding the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in its research. (Courtesy of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy)

  • A remote camera takes a close-up photo of a deer...

    A remote camera takes a close-up photo of a deer. New artificial intelligence software is helping sort through footage from dozens of cameras in wilderness areas in Orange County, aiding the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in its research. (Courtesy of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy)

  • New artificial intelligence software helps sort images, such as...

    New artificial intelligence software is helping sort through images, like that of a deer, that are taken by dozens of cameras in the wilderness areas of Orange County. The cameras are triggered by motion or heat, and the software helps the Irvine Ranch Conservancy eliminate false triggers. (Courtesy of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy)

  • New AI software flagged this photo of a deer...

    New artificial intelligence software has flagged this photo of a deer crossing a trail, helping the Irvine Ranch Conservancy sort through footage from dozens of cameras in wilderness areas in Orange County. (Courtesy of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy)

“Part of our mission and our approach to adaptive management,” said Nathan Gregory, vice president and director of programs at IRC, “is to have scientifically informed monitoring.”

Over the past decade, wildlife cameras have been used to track and monitor human impacts on wildlife activity, Gregory said, helping determine when and how often to open parks or certain lands to the public. .

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy has been hired to manage approximately 40,000 acres of wild land, dubbed the Irvine Ranch Natural Sites, which is owned by OC Parks, Irvine and Newport Beach. The properties extend from Weir Canyon off Highway 91 through the canyons to the City of Irvine Open Space Preserve and the Buck Gully Preserve in Newport Beach.

“If large groups of people are crossing, the wildlife would disappear from the cameras for about three days and then come back,” Gregory said, which is why conservation decided to limit activity in areas for periods to give a break. animals and habitat. “It’s a good example of how we balance compatible recreation and habitat support.”

IRC officials said they were now excited to see how the cameras could be used, such as examining under-surveyed species or post-fire activity, given the newly increased capacity.

“There are so many interesting aspects of curating machine learning and AI – this is just a first step in that direction,” Kenny said.

Gregory said the IRC team hopes to continue expanding the use of technology in conservation efforts, such as using sonar detectors to track and understand bat and bird species, which can also be difficult to study by more traditional methods.

“These advances will increase our ability to answer other questions,” Gregory said.

The advances also offer new ways to connect the community to nature, even if not up close, which helps people understand why conservation work matters, Gregory said.

“Having access to these technologies remotely allows us to look at the world in a different way,” Gregory said. “It’s a great engagement tool. (We can) share these things to show how special the Orange County open space is.

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