discussion / Human-Wildlife Conflict  / 30 June 2017

HWC Tech Challenge - Polar Bear Case

Join the Human Wildlife Conflict Tech Challenge!

In the Arctic, hundreds of polar bears have been killed over the last two decades as a result of human-wildlife conflict. You can help prevent this. 

WWF and WILDLABS challenge you to develop a new, or improved, technology tool to reduce such interactions between humans and carnivores like polar bears and tigers. The winning solution will receive a prize of up to 30,000 EUR each. With this prize, you will refine your solution and field test it with the support of WWF's landscape teams.

The Challenge

Develop / improve a robust early detection tool for polar bears, that can cope with the Arctic environment, is affordable on local level, is easily accessible and operated and requires little maintenance.

Why an Early Detection Tool? 

An early detection tool would give people time to respond effectively to an approaching bear. They are no longer surprised by an encounter and will have more time to choose the best response in order to prevent escalation into conflict.

Ready to develop your idea? 

If you have an idea that could address this challenge, make sure you visit our detailed HWC Tech Challenge Polar Bear Case. It's packed full of background information about the challenge, local conditions, present solutions, and suggested but not yet developed solutions for early warning systems for polar bears. In essence, all the information you need to inform your tool design process. 

If you have questions about the polar bear case, require more information, or have an idea but need collaborators, this is the place for you! Post a reply below and we'll make sure you get the information you need. 

I hope it's OK to ask a coupe of questions in one go...
1. With the polar bears, aparently a ground based radar system is goign to be trialed this year. What are the expected pro's and con's of the system or initial thoughts on it? Is the system capable of differentiating objects? As in, will it be able to tell a bear from something else moving in the area that's not a bear?

2. What are the specific of environmental operating conditions? As in, temperatures, snow depth, humidity/water tolerance, possible mounting/install locations etc.
3. Has any investigation or previous work been done on using an IR technology that is area or mass sensitive? I.e. the trigger level is definable based on the thermal footprint of the signal detected?
4. Is the incident of bear/human interaction higher or more likely to occur at particular times of year or seasons? Are cubs as likely to be involved in interactions as adults, or is there a level of maturity/size the bears seem to more frequently interact with stettlements?
Thanks in advance!

Dear Scott,

Thank you for your message and interest in the HWC Tech Challenge! Some answers to your questions:

1. I will need to check with Polar Bears International, the organisation developing this tool

2. Main environmental conditions to consider are: deep snow, snow drifts / storms, extremely low temperatures up to minus 40 Celcius. I will ask PBI how their system will cope with this

3. Not that I know of, but I will check again with some people on the ground

4. Yes, there are specific seasons with higher levels of conflict. The month of years depends on where you are in the Arctic, but each region has periods with limited sea ice coverage. These are the times when bears come on shore and wait for the sea ice to form again. During the period they spend on land, more incidents can be expected. Example: In the Western Hudson Bay, Canada, sea ice retreats in June/July and forms again in November. Especially October and November are very busy polar bear months, as all animals congregate on the shore line, waiting for the ice to form. They need to get back on the ice to hunt seals.

There are differences between age and sex; Wilder et al (2017) found that nutritionally stressed adult male polar bears were the most likely to pose threats to human safety. Please see attached paper for more information.

I will get back to you on question 1, 2 and 3 as soon as possible!

Best regards,

Femke Hilderink, WWF Netherlands



Dear all,

Nice to see this discussion moveing forward! Too technical for me :-) but very interesting as well!

I asked PBI to answer your questions Scott, please see below:


Pros- weather and temperature resilient. Cons- cost (expensive), polar bears are a “softer” target than originally anticipated due both to the frontal profile and fur.

The Spotter RF system is capable of learning to discern both objects (radar return patterns/data) and movements of interest. It is widely used in security and surveillance applications at airports, power installations, and dams in North America.


Used from the Middle East to the Arctic without issue. Radar units are quite small and can be mounted in a variety of ways depending on needs (360 vs partial scanning)


A fair bit of work has been conducted on IR with polar bears, both den detection and survey of animals on the surface

IR is VERY weather dependent, limiting its utility in the Arctic winter

Hope this is helpful!

Regarding your question about the selection of a winning entry: yes, the current number of conflicts with polar bears is still low. However, it is expected (and already noticed) that this will increase due to longer sea-ice free periods. Therefore, the range states and communities like to anticipate and prepare well. It will indeed be hard to select a winner while there are two species in one category. But we hope to see some good suggestions that could basically be used for multiple species, of course modified in terms of environmental conditions/ specifics re animal behaviour etc. But it could also be the case that we receive a very good proposal for polar bears and not for tigers (or vice versa) which would make it easy to choose.


Best regards,


Thanks Femke. I would have considered radar the most reliable option and understand the cost implications. I'd say of existing technology, it would be the most reliable option though at a cost as PBI have identified. Lower cost technologies will all have issues under blizzard conditions due to ability to penetrate a cold and wet/dense substance. Radar will have similar limits I expect PBI will experience at ground level. The range will reduce as the intensity of a storm increases - it's a known limit with those systems. The radar is not exactly user install and maintain either, and there will be more political powers showing interest in proposal to release such technology to civilians. The limitation with any variant using a Doppler/reflection system will be the ability of the signal to penetrate the density of the arctic storms with minimal impact. Microwave, ultrasonic etc will experience such issues.

it would be interesting if some of the polar bear researches had any further commentary on when the frequency of bears entering human 'space' increases. While there might be weather limits on some technologies, I'd be interested to know if the consequence of the system effectiveness being reduce is moot due to the bears rarely interacting with humans under the conditions that compromise the technology.

To me, that will be the key compromise with most technological solutions. With a high or unlimited budget, there is no need to compromise. Under most conditions in an extreme environment like the arctic, you can't have cake and eat it too. A low cost and low maintenance solution is unlikely to deliver high reliability under all extremes. Knowing more about what could be compromised would be key in a cost effective, easily maintained and user supported system. If there's any chance of such insight, that would be appreciated. The polar bear case is interesting from a technical balance perspective.

Thanks again for the info, quite interesting.