PhD Positions: UAVs and Wild Animal Tracking Systems

These two fully funded PhD positions may be of interest to the community:

Primate Conservation And UAV Technology: Determining Chimpanzee Distribution in Western Tanzania Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Liverpool John Moores University | Faculty of Engineering & Technology | United Kingdom

"This unique PhD position will focus on determining chimpanzee distribution in western Tanzania using unmanned aerial vehicles and also will investigate the factors that influence this distribution. Studying chimpanzee distributions is important because at least 75 per cent of Tanzanian chimpanzees (~ 2-3000 total chimpanzees) live outside of national parks and little is known about their distribution, behaviour, or ecology. Thus determining their distribution outside of national parks is of high-conservation priority.

Traditionally researchers have surveyed chimpanzees using ground surveys, but recently researchers have started to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This is a promising innovative method to address questions about species distribution that can vastly increase the areas over which surveys can be conducted. In this study the PhD student will use UAVs fitted with cameras will be used to both collect data on regional chimpanzee distribution, but also to map landscape features (e.g. land-cover types and human disturbance) that might be important in determining their distribution. Combined, this project will integrate UAV-acquired datasets to test hypotheses about chimpanzee presence and landscape change due to key pressures - illegal herding, agricultural expansion, deforestation, and the spatiotemporal patterns of grass fires – recently identified as immediate threats to the Greater Mahale Ecosystem (GME) in western Tanzania. To achieve this goal the supervisory team comprises both researchers from the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Engineering and Technology." 

For more information, and to apply, visit: https://www.findaphd.com/search/ProjectDetails.aspx?PJID=72315

Developing Wild Animal Tracking Systems Using Mataki Technology and UAVs For Use In Conservation

Liverpool John Moores University | Faculty of Engineering & Technology | United Kingdom

"This PhD project involves the development of an animal tracking system utilising UAVs and Mataki wireless GPS tags. These devices are Open Design and Open Source, offering a cheap, lightweight and very powerful technology for wild animal tracking.

Mataki systems are usually enclosed in a collar or tag that is attached to the animal in such a way that after a period it will bio-degrade and fall off. The device periodically records scientifically important data regarding the animal’s behaviour. A typical Mataki is approximately 8g in weight and has: a microcontroller, a radio transceiver, a GPS receiver, a three-axis accelerometer, a pressure and light-level sensor. Thus over a period of time the device builds up a time-stamped history of the animal and its movements/position.

Because of the presence of the radio transceiver and micro-controller the Mataki can be programmed such that when one animal equipped with a device is in close proximity to another similarly fitted, the two devices exchange data. Thus it is possible that each individual animal in a group may be carrying the data of the entire group. This means that only one device needs to be recovered and uploaded from to garner a great deal of high quality data.

Within this project it is proposed to design a Mataki device which is modified for aerial use from a UAV. The idea is to design a specialist UAV to carry that device into proximity with a subject animal and so capture the data from it in the same way that Mataki devices work on an animal-to animal basis. This would have a number of significant advantages. Firstly it would facilitate data retrieval without having to recover the physical device. Secondly it would make possible the regular reacquisition of data at intermediate stages whilst an experiment was on-going.

Initial work would involve the design a new type of UAV capable of long endurance, extreme low-noise level, flight. This device would be capable of loitering in the region of a group of subject animals for up to one hour at a height of approximately 100 feet. This represents a significant technical and innovative challenge. The Mataki design would then be modified to work via the UAV’s own on-board telemetry system, thus allowing both upload of data from a ground based subject animal and simultaneous transmission to a user ground station some hundreds of metres away. Again this system integration is a technical challenge and it is believed that this would be the first time that UAV control systems have been adapted to relay ground based data of this sort."

For more information, and to apply, visit: https://www.findaphd.com/search/ProjectDetails.aspx?PJID=72318&LID=3469