Drones have the potential to play a big role in protecting endangered species, with a number of trials being conducted to investigate how small aerial surveillance aircraft can be used to combat poaching. The latest effort involves the use of artificial intelligence software to quickly identify poachers and animals in drone footage, in an attempt to better protect elephants and rhinos.

Developed by Neurala, the software will be used by the Lindbergh Foundation in its efforts to combat poaching. It's designed to keep an eye on video as it's streamed back to researchers from drones in the field and identify animals, vehicles and poachers in real time without any human input. The software can analyze regular or infrared footage, so works with video taken day or night.

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The Lindbergh Foundation will be deploying the technology as a pard of operation Air Shepherd, which is aimed at protecting elephants and rhinos in southern Africa from poachers . According to the Foundation, poachers are trying to get their hands on valuable ivory and rhino horn using crude methods like poisoning the water supply.

It claims elephants and rhinos are at risk of being extinct in just 10 years if current poaching rates continue, and has logged 5,000 hours of drone flight time over the course of 4,000 missions to date. The program is currently focused on threats in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

"This is a terrific example of how AI technology can be a vital force for good," says Neurala CEO Max Versace. "We're thrilled to be working with the Lindbergh Foundation in this unique partnership, contributing our deep learning software to such a worthwhile cause and doing our part to preserve endangered species."

The program was launched on the weekend by Neurala CEO Max Versace at the 90th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's non-stop transatlantic flight.

The AI system is demonstrated in the video below.

Source: Neurala, Air Shepherd