Researchers using unmanned systems and artificial intelligence to prevent shark attacks

In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, learn about Australian tech startups that are using artificial intelligence, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and electric force fields in an attempt to prevent shark attacks on humans. Additionally, learn about an autonomous bus being tested in Spain to help finalize citizens with driverless technology, and an unmanned surface vehicle that may be used for the removal of plastic in the world’s oceans.

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In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International(AUVSI), which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics,learn about Australian tech startups that are using artificial intelligence, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and electric force fields in an attempt to prevent shark attacks on humans. Additionally, learn about an autonomous bus being tested in Spain to help finalize citizens with driverless technology, and an unmanned surface vehicle that may be used for the removal of plastic in the world’s oceans.

Australian tech startups using UAS and AI to try and prevent shark attacks

In an effort to try and prevent sharks from eating human bathers, Australian tech startups are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), UAS and electric force fields.

Officials in the U.S. are keeping a close eye on the technological advancements, being that sharks attacked teenagers on beaches from California to New York over the summer.

Typically, sharks have frequented lower latitudes, but Florida Atlantic University Professor Stephen Kajiura says that warming oceans are pushing their prey north. Kajiura says that sharks will always follow their nourishment, so they are moving into new terrain, including America’s northeastern coast.

Just a few weeks ago, a 26-year-old boogie boarder was killed by a shark in the first fatal attack in Cape Cod in 80 years. This led Cape Cod resident Cynthia Wigren, who is also the chief executive officer of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, to start looking for new technology that could help prevent future attacks.

Wigren’s research led her to Australia, a place home to surfing culture, a long coastline and beach tourism that has prompted a search for ways to prevent shark-human interaction without having to kill the animals. There is no shortage of work being done in Australia to utilize these technologies to prevent these attacks.

Last year, a 16-year-old New South Wales high school student named Samuel Aubin designed SharkMate, which is a smart phone app that uses AI to analyze 13 environmental factors that affect shark behavior, including time of day, proximity to a river and recent rain. These factors are combined with other data such as the number of lifeguards on duty to calculate the odds of being attacked.

In January, a group that operates search and rescue UAS in Australia called the Ripper Group launched SharkSpotter, which is a deep learning computer program that scans the ocean for sharks from the air. The AI algorithm detects the animals based on their movement, speed, color, texture, shape and swimming patterns. When a shark is spotted, the UAS sends an alert to lifeguards, and it can also drop inflatable devices to swimmers in immediate danger.

Last summer, the UAS operated along 15 beaches in New South Wales. CEO Eddie Bennet says that the UAS will patrol an additional 50 beaches this summer as more lifeguard associations embrace the technology. Next year, Bennet plans to go public with SharkSpotter.

While SharkMate and SharkSpotter attempt to influence human actions, Ocean Guardian’s Shark Shield attempts to change the animal’s behavior. The electric transmitting device releases a three-dimensional force field that causes unbearable spasms in a shark’s sensory systems, which causes the shark to turn away from its prey.

The portable device can be worn on the ankle of a diver, glued to the gripping pad of a surfboard or stuck on the bottom of a boat. It has proven effective thus far, as researchers have analyzed hundreds of encounters between a baited decoy and sharks, and have determined in peer-reviewed research papers that the Shark Shield is the world’s only scientifically proven electric shark deterrent.

Several leading shark researchers support the three technologies, and they predict that a combination of UAS and AI will ultimately remove the need for shark nets that have closed off swimming beaches to the detriment of marine life for almost a century.

Autonomous bus named Erica being tested in Spain to help familiarize citizens with driverless technology

According to ZDNet, an autonomous bus called Èrica—which stands for electric, revolutionary, intelligent, shared (compartit in Catalan) and amicable—is being tested in Catalonia, Spain and the surrounding region to help familiarize citizens with driverless technology.

The testing is also designed to give local-government officials the opportunity to adjust to this new form of transportation, which they expect to be fully functioning by 2020.

Èrica was unveiled by the Association of Municipalities for Mobility and Urban Transport (AMTU). Among its capabilities, the red and yellow shuttle has eight sensors, is 100 percent electrically powered with 14 hours of autonomous driving, and can transport up to 11 passengers and an attendant that’s onboard to help and advise travelers, and deal with emergencies. The vehicle is also suitable for reduced-mobility passengers.

Approximately 4,600 citizens from Sant Cugat, Terrassa, and Sabadell experienced the bus last month. This month, AMTU plans on taking the vehicle to Girona, El Vendrell, Reus, Martorell, and Vic.

Preparing the bus for its new routes takes time, so before Èrica can carry passengers, it must first undergo two days of preparation, so it can record the route to be driven in detail using GPS.

Once the bus is ready for its new route, passengers can board it, and they have the option of sitting in one of the six available seats, or standing.

While on the road, Èrica can detect unexpected obstacles in its path thanks to its laser sensors. Another safety feature of the bus is the limit on its maximum speed, as the bus is limited to a maximum speed of 11 miles per hour, which helps protect standing passengers from sudden braking. The speed limit is also meant to account for the complex urban environment.

According to AMTU director Joan Prat, the shuttle can ‘see’ what happens within 200 meters, and if necessary, can come to a rapid halt when it detects an object at less than 30 centimeters.

Prat does acknowledge, though, that certain weather conditions remain a problem.

“In case of heavy rain, the vehicle detects [the water as] an unidentified object, so it can't operate,” Prat tells ZDNet. He adds that in the near future, cameras located on the roof will be able to identify exactly what the object encountered is.

​For Prat, shuttles like Èrica are designed to be used for pre-checked routes and as first- or last-mile systems.

“Shuttles like Èrica are designed to complement the current transport network and not to replace any line,” Prat says.

Those use cases are more than enough, though, according to Pere Calvet, general manager of Catalonian railway company FGC.

“We still need to overcome hurdles, such as legislation, and carefully deal with moral issues as well as the coexistence of people and machines in the urban environment,” Calvet says. “But the shift to a more sustainable mobility is necessary and unstoppable.”

AutoNaut USV looks to play a role in removing plastic from the world's oceans

An AutoNaut USV has been launched alongside “Wilson,” which is the Ocean Cleanup System 001 from a non-profit organization called The Ocean Cleanup that is deploying advanced technologies to remove plastic from the world’s oceans.

While deployed, the AutoNaut USV will conduct long-term monitoring of the surrounding environmental conditions. It will also provide information on “Wilson” itself, which is currently undergoing sea trials approximately 350 nautical miles from San Francisco to test the behavior of the system.

“We are thrilled to be playing a role in Boyan Slat’s vision,” says Phil Johnston, BD at AutoNaut.

“The AutoNaut uses only wave-power for propulsion and solar energy for sensors - so these are two very elegant, renewably-powered systems working together for an environmental cause.”

Operating directly alongside The Ocean Cleanup System 001, the AutoNaut USV, which is remotely overseen by an operator at sea and a small team based on the south coast of England, is equipped with cameras on its mast and hull to provide a live-feed view of “Wilson,” both from above and below the sea surface.

The USV is also equipped with onboard sensors that measure the sea surface waves, oceanic currents, water quality and weather conditions, in an effort to ultimately provide a scientific understanding of the environment.

​If all goes well during this two-week trial, the systems will re-locate further offshore to the Great Pacific garbage patch (GPGP). The goal of the project there is to remove 50 percent of ocean plastics every five years.

View more information on the AUVSI.

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