SPOT Poachers in Action: Augmenting Conservation Drones With Automatic Detection in Near Real Time


  • Elizabeth Bondi University of Southern California
  • Fei Fang Carnegie Mellon University
  • Mark Hamilton Microsoft
  • Debarun Kar University of Southern California
  • Donnabell Dmello University of Southern California
  • Jongmoo Choi University of Southern California
  • Robert Hannaford AirShepherd
  • Arvind Iyer AirShepherd
  • Lucas Joppa Microsoft
  • Milind Tambe University of Southern California
  • Ram Nevatia University of Southern California



unmanned aerial vehicles, object detection, anti-poaching


The unrelenting threat of poaching has led to increased development of new technologies to combat it. One such example is the use of long wave thermal infrared cameras mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) to spot poachers at night and report them to park rangers before they are able to harm animals. However, monitoring the live video stream from these conservation UAVs all night is an arduous task. Therefore, we build SPOT (Systematic POacher deTector), a novel application that augments conservation drones with the ability to automatically detect poachers and animals in near real time. SPOT illustrates the feasibility of building upon state-of-the-art AI techniques, such as Faster RCNN, to address the challenges of automatically detecting animals and poachers in infrared images. This paper reports (i) the design and architecture of SPOT, (ii) a series of efforts towards more robust and faster processing to make SPOT usable in the field and provide detections in near real time, and (iii) evaluation of SPOT based on both historical videos and a real-world test run by the end users in the field. The promising results from the test in the field have led to a plan for larger-scale deployment in a national park in Botswana. While SPOT is developed for conservation drones, its design and novel techniques have wider application for automated detection from UAV videos.




How to Cite

Bondi, E., Fang, F., Hamilton, M., Kar, D., Dmello, D., Choi, J., Hannaford, R., Iyer, A., Joppa, L., Tambe, M., & Nevatia, R. (2018). SPOT Poachers in Action: Augmenting Conservation Drones With Automatic Detection in Near Real Time. Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 32(1).