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Heat-seeking drone saves fawns' lives

Lyssandra Sears · 28 Jun 2012, 10:45

Published: 28 Jun 2012 12:46 GMT+02:00
Updated: 28 Jun 2012 10:45 GMT+02:00

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Swiss researchers are working on creating drones that use thermal imaging to detect fawns nestled in fields that are due to be mown by farmers.

In an attempt to reduce the number of fawn deaths, which currently totals around 2,000 in Switzerland during harvesting season, Zurich’s technical college ETH has joined forces with the Bern University for Applied Agricultural Sciences to create a machine that can detect the animals in the long grasses.

The flying machine, equipped with thermal imaging technology to detect warm bodies, found its first fawns at the end of May, online news site Blick reported.

The fawn problem has been a cause of concern for many farmers. The young deer hide out in the long grasses and do not move when they hear danger approaching. Consequently many fawns meet a grisly end during the hay harvest.

The current commercially available imaging technology remains expensive, with a basic thermal camera costing in the region of 2,500 francs ($2,586).

Farmer Daniel Grichting told Blick he had been able to save the lives of three fawns in recent weeks with the help of a thermal camera. It can however be difficult to track the animals' locations on flat ground, he said, adding that the apparatus enjoyed better success in hilly terrain.

The limitations of the available equipment meant the products currently in development could help save yet more lives, he said.

In Germany, ISA Industrieelektronik GmbH is working on attaching infrared cameras to so-called Oktokopters, flying drones with eight propellers.

The German Centre for Aeronautics and Aerospace meanwhile is also working on a mower with special built-in sensors that set off an alarm when they come across a warm body.

Lyssandra Sears (news@thelocal.ch)

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