One virtual room, 11 critical topics selected by popular demand, 36 leading engineers and conservation practitioners, and hundreds of participants across the globe. Our Virtual Meetups bring leading engineers in the tech sector together with conservation practitioners to share information and identify obstacles around some of the most revolutionary conservation technologies of our time.
Here you will find an archive of all meetups we've hosted, including recordings and written notes capturing highlights from each session. To find out about upcoming meetups, visit the current series page here.
The WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Series is a program of webinars for community members and wider partners to discuss emerging topics in conservation technology and leverage existing community groups for virtual exchange. The aim of the series is to bring leading engineers in the tech sector together with academics and conservation practitioners to share information, identify obstacles, and discuss how to best move forward.
Season One of the series took place in late 2018, covering new data collection techniques through Networked Sensors for Security and Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) Prevention and Next-Generation Wildlife Tracking, and effective utilization of that information through Big Data in Conservation. Season Two ran during the first half of 2019 and focused on Tools and Spaces for Collaboration, the Low-Cost Open-Source Solutions these approaches are producing, and how to put the information they’re generating to use through Creative Approaches to Data-Driven Storytelling.
Season Three will take place throughout the second half of 2019, and will explore the theme of noninvasive monitoring technologies in conservation, including Camera Trapping, Drones, Environmental DNA (eDNA), and Acoustic Monitoring. After a more approach-driven second season, we’re eager to dive back into the realm of development and implementation in the context of these ever-evolving tools.
We are always looking to tailor these meetups to community interests and needs, so if you have ideas about specific discussion points you'd like to see covered during this season please join the thread and share your thoughts.
Bring conservation and tech leaders into conversation beyond siloed groups and efforts
Highlight current efforts
Identify obstacles and ways forward
- Welcome and introductions (5 min)
- Opening speaker – current tech landscape (10 min)
- Engineer and conservation practitioner speed talks (10 min each)
- Q&A discussion (20 min)
- Optional ongoing discussion and community exchange (30 min)
- Takeaways and wrap up (5 min)
Meetup 11: Acoustic Monitoring
Background & Need
Acoustic sensors enable efficient and non-invasive monitoring of a wide range of species, including many that are difficult to monitor in other ways. Although they were initially limited in application scope largely due to cost and hardware constraints, the development of low-cost, open-source models like the Audiomoth in recent years has increased access immensely and opened up new avenues of research. For example, some teams are using them to identify illicit human activities through the detection of associated sounds, like gunshots, vehicles, or chainsaws (e.g. OpenEars).
With this relatively novel dimension of wildlife monitoring rapidly advancing in both marine and terrestrial systems, it is crucial that we identify and share information about the utility and constraints of these sensors to inform efforts. A recent study identified advancements in hardware and machine learning applications, as well as early development of acoustic biodiversity indicators, as factors facilitating progress in the field. In terms of limitations, the authors highlight insufficient reference sound libraries, a lack of open-source audio processing tools, and a need for standardization of survey and analysis protocols. They also stress the importance of collaboration in moving forward, which is precisely what this meetup will aim to facilitate.
David Watson, Professor in Ecology at Charles Sturt University; Chief Investigator Manager at the Australian Acoustic Observatory (10 min)
Dimitri Ponirakis, Senior Noise Analyst & Applications Manager for Cornell University's Bioacoustics Research Program (10 min)
Meetup 10: eDNA
Background & Need
Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is a molecular sampling technology that collects information about organisms using DNA shed by them into their environment. While eDNA holds exciting potential to become an efficient, low-cost, non-invasive ecological monitoring method, a lack of standardization of approaches and purpose-built sampling equipment make it hard to compare results and determine its actual effectiveness across studies. Detection success and accuracy also vary greatly among species and environments, making standardization a challenge.
However, as eDNA moves toward becoming an industry standard method for species detection and management, the equipment is beginning to transition from largely do-it-yourself experimental contraptions to professionally engineered tools. For example, Smith-Root Inc. recently developed the first-ever purpose-built eDNA sampling system, which they call ANDe™. We’re also seeing an expansion of eDNA applications from mainly marine to freshwater and even terrestrial environments, although the latter still requires substantial growth.
As this nascent field develops, it is critical for the conservation tech community to explore and identify how eDNA applies to management needs, and to ensure that continued development meets those needs. Beyond indicating species presence, research so far suggests that eDNA can contribute to conservation by deepening understanding of population dynamics, resource usage, disease presence, invasion pathways of non-native species, and population genetics, to name a few. This indicates that it could be a critical tool for managing imperiled and invasive species. This meetup will explore some of these current and future applications of eDNA, articulate how it applies to conservation needs, and define what challenges we face in maximizing its potential.
- Kat Bruce, Co-founder and Managing Director of NatureMetrics
- Alice Valentini, Research Officer at Spygen
- Robin Naidoo and Arnaud Lyet, Senior Wildlife Conseervation Scientists at WWF
Meetup 9: Drones
Background & Need
In recent years, drone technologies have been explored for a range of applications in conservation including (but not limited to) mapping, biodiversity inventories, antipoaching patrols, wildlife tracking, and fire monitoring. Combined with other monitoring sensors and devices, they are capable of collecting high-resolution data quickly, noninvasively, and at relatively low cost. However, challenges remain in putting these tools to use. A recent paper reviewing 256 conservation drone projects highlighted some of these major obstacles, ranging from unintended social and ecological consequences of drone operations to still prohibitive costs, both in terms of hardware and in terms of storing and processing large volumes of data. The longstanding challenge of power/battery life remains as well.
The rise of customizable, open-source drones like those of ArduPilot and OpenROV hold promise for more effective conservation applications, but there is a need to establish what technologies are available, how they are being used in concert with other conservation approaches, and what remaining challenges exist in applying them. This meetup will aim to address these questions, in addition to those raised by the community.
- Craig Elder, Technical Community Manager at ArduPilot.org
- Dr. Claire Burke, Astro-Ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University
- Gabriel Levin, GIS Analyst at Conservation International
Meetup 8: Camera Trapping
Background & Need
Camera traps have been a key part of the conservation toolkit for decades. Remotely triggered video or still cameras allow researchers and managers to monitor cryptic species, survey populations, and support enforcement responses by documenting illegal activities. Increasingly, machine learning is being implemented to automate the processing of data generated by camera traps.
A study published earlier this year showed that, despite being well-established and widely used tools in conservation, progress in the development of camera traps has plateaued since the emergence of the modern model in the mid-2000s, leaving users struggling with many of the same issues they faced a decade ago. That manufacturer ratings have not improved over time, despite technological advancements, demonstrates the need for a new generation of innovative conservation camera traps. This meetup will address existing efforts, established needs, and what a next-generation camera trap might look like - including the integration of AI for data processing through initiatives like Wildlife Insights and Wild Me.
- Roland Kays, Research Professor at North Carolina State University and the Head of the Biodiversity Lab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences
- Sam Seccombe, Technical Project Manager and Field Specialist in the Conservation Tech Unit at ZSL
- Sara Beery, NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Caltech and Research Intern at Google
Meetup 7 (Tech Hub Special): Scaling technology solutions to tackle the illegal wildlife trade
Background & Need
The illegal wildlife trade threatens the very existence of species such as tigers, rhino, and pangolins. Technology offers hope in the battle against this destructive illegal market.
The WILDLABS Tech Hub is helping advance innovative solutions taking on the illegal wildlife trade. It brings together the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Digital Catapult, Satellite Applications Catapult, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and six international conservation partners supporting WILDLABS.NET. From this network, the solutions have access to a wide range of resources, including technical consultation with cloud experts, business model design sprints, and connection to in-field labs for testing and feedback.
This virtual meetup is an opportunity to hear first-hand how these solutions are scaling their technology, and achieving sustainability, in the drive to make a lasting difference. From cutting-edge forensic technology and open hardware to cloud-enabled data aggregation and satellite networks, the participants in the WILDLABS Tech Hub represent a diverse and inspiring cross-section of approaches:
- An IoT and web platform that can transmit images from remote cameras or live video streams to AI modules which search for relevant threats (people, vehicles, animals), and can alert users in real time.
- A constellation of lightweight and low-cost satellites to track tiny, low-cost sensors deployed on animals, vehicles, etc. Real-time, accurate satellite-based location tracking anywhere, at low cost.
- Open-source acoustic hardware and software for environmental & wildlife monitoring, with existing applications including automating the search for an elusive insect species, monitoring poaching by gunshot, and listening for ultrasonic bat calls.
- A fingerprint database available internationally for the storage and search of fingerprints from people involved in or believed to be involved in wildlife crime and fingermarks from wildlife crime scenes.
As well as their journey and progress to date, you will learn about advances in the conservation technology sector, what the future holds for these solutions, and how you can get involved.
- Tracy Alexander, Director of Forensics at City of London Police
- Aurélie Shapiro, Senior Remote Sensing Specialist at WWF, PandaSat project lead
- Eric Schmidt, Executive Director at Wildlife Protection Solutions
- Peter Prince, Algorithm & Software Design at Open Acoustic Devices
Meetup 6: Creative Approaches to Data-Driven Storytelling
Background & Need
New tech developments are enabling conservation data collection on an unprecedented scale, but is getting the data enough? In our December meetup on Big Data in Conservation, we discussed how machine learning tools can help us put these massive stores of information to use. However, a major takeaway from this discussion was that actually utilizing big data often requires taking a step beyond data processing and into the realm of storytelling, which plays a critical role in closing the gap between data and decision-makers.
With so much of the focus on exciting new data collection and processing technologies, the importance of data-driven storytelling may be underestimated - our Big Data speakers and attendees agreed that this is an area in which the conservation tech community has significant room for development. There are, however, some exciting efforts leading the way. A few of these include Internet of Elephants' tools for consumer engagement with wildlife, from interactive data visualizations to social media filters and even video games; National Geographic Society's work on Vital Signs of the Planet and Earth Pulse in their Geographic Visualization Lab; and Vizzuality's beautiful data design work that enables platforms like Global Forest Watch, Global Fishing Watch, and Half-Earth.
Jason Pearson, Founder of TRUTHstudio; Founding President & CEO of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (10 min)
Camellia Williams, Lead Writer at Vizzuality (10 min)
Gautam Shah, Founder of Internet of Elephants; National Geographic Explorer (10 min)
The aims of this discussion are as follows: to introduce data-driven storytelling in the context of conservation tech; to describe how it is being used, including its value and place in the wider ecosystem, and how we can better take advantage of existing approaches; to identify the obstacles in advancing the capacity of these tools/approaches (e.g. lack of funding compared to more big-name tech); and to discuss its role in the future of conservation tech.
Meetup 5: Tools and Spaces for Collaboration
Background & Need
WILDLABS aims to facilitate collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts in conservation tech. While community members generally want to collaborate more effectively and avoid reinventing the wheel in their solutions, many still struggle with how to actually go about doing this. For example, in our original call for input for this series, one member requested a discussion addressing "How best to collaborate, share resources and spread design and testing loads without doubling up".
We need a virtual meetup to illuminate the potential of spaces both online (e.g. GitHub) and in the field (makerspaces / innovation labs), as well as the tools they provide to facilitate collaboration around conservation tech. For applications ranging from data sharing to open-source hardware development and beyond, it is necessary to identify what these tools and spaces offer and how to best utilize them to advance conservation capacity.
- Lou Woodley, Director of the AAAS Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement (10 min)
- Corinne Pitts, Services Solutions Engineer at GitHub (10 min)
- Shah Selbe, Conservation Technologist, National Geographic Explorer & Fellow, and Founder of Conservify (10 min)
- A taste of makerspaces - contributions from Andrew Quitmeyer in Panama and Damian Otieno in Kenya
The aims of this discussion are as follows: to introduce tools and spaces for collaboration in the context of conservation tech; to describe how they are being used, including what needs they are addressing and how they fit in to the wider ecosystem; to identify the obstacles in advancing the capacity of these tools and spaces; and to discuss their role in the future of conservation tech.
Meetup 4: Low-Cost, Open-Source Solutions
Background & Need
Despite critical advancements in tech solutions being made available to conservationists around the world, many existing tools are cost-prohibitive in the landscapes that need them most. Additionally, those who create low-cost and open-source alternatives to pricey market tech are often operating on tight budgets themselves, meaning they have limited resources for the promotion of their solutions to a wider market. Therefore, there is a need for increased communication around these solutions to highlight their availability, share lessons learned in their creation, and avoid duplication of efforts. Arribada Initiative and OpenCollar are both examples of current efforts in this arena.
- Alasdair Davies, Founder of Arribada Initiative, Co-Founder of Naturebytes, Conservation Technology Specialist at ZSL, and a Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow (10 min)
- David Lang, Co-Founder of OpenROV and Open Explorer (10 min)
- Tanya Berger-Wolf, Co-Founder and Director of Wildbook.org and Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (10 min)
The aims of this discussion are as follows: to introduce low-cost, open-source devices for conservation; to describe how they are being used, including what needs they are addressing and how they fit in to the wider conservation tech market; to identify the obstacles in advancing the capacity of these technologies; and to discuss the future of these solutions - particularly their sustainability and how best to collaborate moving forward.
Meetup 3: Big Data in Conservation
Background & Need
With new technologies revolutionizing data collection, wildlife researchers are becoming increasingly able to collect data at much higher volumes than ever before. Now we are facing the challenges of putting this information to use, bringing the science of big data into the conservation arena. With the help of machine learning tools, this area holds immense potential for conservation practices. The applications range from online trafficking alerts to species-specific early warning systems to efficient movement and biodiversity monitoring and beyond.
However, the process of building effective machine learning tools depends upon large amounts of standardized training data, and conservationists currently lack an established system for standardization. Therefore, how to best develop such a system and incentivize data sharing are questions at the forefront of this work. There are currently multiple AI-based conservation initiatives, including Wildlife Insights and WildBook, that are pioneering applications on this front. Building upon our two previous virtual meetups, as well as recent conversations taking place within the broader conservation tech community, this discussion will address current efforts, illustrate how they fit together, and frame them within these broader questions about the future of big data in conservation.
- Dave Thau, Data and Technology Global Lead Scientist at WWF-US (10 min)
- Sarah Davidson, Data Curator at Movebank (10 min)
- Dan Morris, Principal Researcher, Microsoft - AI for Earth (10 min)
The aims of this discussion are as follows: to introduce the technologies used for processing big data in the context of conservation; to describe how they are being used for conservation, including what needs they are addressing in conservation practice and how different approaches fit together; to identify the obstacles in advancing the capacity of these technologies from both field and tech perspectives; and to discuss the future of big data tech, including the sustainability of its applications and how best to collaborate moving forward.
Meetup 2: Next-Generation Wildlife Tracking
Background & Need
Effective wildlife management requires good population data – knowing where, when, and why populations move is key to protecting them. For decades, most wildlife tracking has depended upon trackers that deliver telemetry to the Argos satellite system. While this current system has proven valuable for protecting some species, it has been less practical for others, including many of those in marine environments, and its effectiveness is limited by restrictions in coverage, accuracy, and data capacity. New technologies on the horizon include small satellites like CubeSats, which are being investigated by NASA, the ICARUS Initiative’s recently launched satellite system, and a variety of other ventures aiming to improve the coverage, accuracy, and capacity of wildlife tracking data collection. As most of these innovations are still in the early stages of development or deployment, it is an important time to identify how these distinct efforts fit together while fulfilling different conservation needs.
Groups working in this arena from the WILDLABS community and beyond will benefit from a centralized discussion to help identify points of overlap, potential collaboration opportunities, and remaining gaps to be addressed.
- Christian Rutz, Founding President of the International Bio-Logging Society (10 min)
- Virginie Perilhon, Product Manager at Xerius Tracking (10 min)
- Jake Levenson, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Oceans Forward; Marine Biologist for U.S. Department of the Interior (10 min)
The aims of this discussion are as follows: to introduce next-gen wildlife tracking technologies in the context of conservation; to describe how they are being used for conservation, including what needs they are addressing in conservation practice and how different approaches fit together; to identify the obstacles in advancing the capacity of these technologies from both field and tech perspectives; and to discuss the future of wildlife tracking tech, including the sustainability of its applications and how best to collaborate moving forward.
meetup 1: Networked Sensors for Security and HWC Prevention
Background & Need
Much of today’s human-wildlife conflict could be mitigated by the early detection of unwelcome wildlife in human areas. Likewise, security threats to species at risk of poaching could be reduced by the early detection of unwelcome humans in wildlife areas. Sensors equip a range of tools to enhance monitoring capacity for conservation, and when networked, hold the potential to revolutionize such early warning systems. There are currently numerous endeavors underway to implement networked sensors in both protected area security and HWC prevention, from efforts to secure parks and protected areas from poaching such as the Wildlife Crime Technology Project to those implementing LoRa-based integrated fencing networks such as the winners of the 2017 HWC Tech Challenge. Groups working in this arena from the WILDLABS community and beyond will benefit from a centralized discussion to help identify points of overlap, potential collaboration opportunities, and remaining gaps to be addressed.
- Eric Becker, Conservation Technology Engineer, World Wildlife Fund (10 min)
- Laurens de Groot, Co-Founder, SmartParks (10 min)
- Dr. Jan-Kees Schakel, Founder and CEO, Sensing Clues (10 min)
The aims of this discussion are as follows: to introduce networked sensors in the context of conservation; to describe how they are being used for conservation, including what needs they are addressing in conservation practice and how different approaches fit together; to identify the obstacles in advancing the capacity of these technologies from both field and tech perspectives; and to discuss the future of networked sensors, including the sustainability of their applications and how best to collaborate moving forward.