AI for the environment

While artificial intelligence (AI) has captured public attention globally the use of AI tools is not entirely new; AI and machine learning (ML) applications have been used in environmental sciences for decades. The true extent of the impact that AI will have on human society is as yet unclear. As awareness of its potential grows in the public conscience, calls for conversations around its risks, challenges and opportunities have come forth from global and local bodies. Our office is considering how AI might be useful for improving outcomes for our natural environment.

What applications are already in place?

 Examples of useful AI research and technology that supports positive environmental outcomes are already available; we describe some examples here.

Remote sensing

Recognising that the standard tools used for ecological assessments were limited in their ability to provide regular, comprehensive information about how our national biodiversity was faring the team at Eco-index saw that a new approach would be useful. Through the application of AI tools to high resolution satellite imagery Eco-index are aiming to understand how native ecosystems change with time. These tools will help to inform our understanding of wetland ecosystems resulting in better management of wetlands and providing a mechanism to quantify restoration works.

Wallaby trapping

The 2023 “Solve for Tomorrow” competition was won by Rotorua local, Cameron Moore, who created a humane trap for wallabies. While mountain biking in the Whakarewarewa forest, Cameron spotted a wallaby eating small shoots from the forest floor. With the intention of enhancing the forest biodiversity, Cameron set about designing an AI enhanced wallaby trap. A camera connected to the trapping box was programmed so that a motorised door would open if the AI detected that a wallaby was nearby. Because the trap utilises AI, it is able to distinguish between wallabies and other traffic that is common to the Whakarewarewa forest including dogs and small children.

Video resources

The team at Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) have used AI software, coupled with a thermal camera, to identify predators and provide notification of detection. 

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are using AI to analyse infrared imaging in efforts to identify koala populations.

Last edited on: 15th December 2023