Colorful underwater world

Twenty-five years ago, lionfish started invading coastal waters in the Americas, and the species is now causing damage to the local ecosystems from Venezuela, through the Caribbean, and up the East Coast of the United States. Since most of these fish are genetically similar, the theory goes that a few private fish collectors dumped their fish in the water, and now we have a problem: these fish can lay 30,000 eggs every five days, local prey aren’t scared of them because they still don’t recognize them as predators, and lionfish have no natural predators in these foreign waters.

But humans could become their main predators because these fish are tasty—and they sell for up to $20 a pound at upscale restaurants, when scuba divers can get to them. However, there aren’t enough scuba divers fishing for them, and these fish hideout in spots much deeper than humans can go. Enter stage right: an untethered, autonomous, underwater robot powered by machine learning aims to hunt these fish. Students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute are training the robot to use computer vision to recognize what a lionfish is and then to run it through with a spear.

Cockroaches on a rock

If there’s anything more terrifying than artificial intelligence being used by an authoritarian state to control it’s citizens, it’s probably this: AI being used to optimize breeding and living conditions for cockroaches. Yes, it’s true. In China, a pharmaceutical company breeds cockroaches—in fact, currently 6,000,000,000 cockroaches. There are so many that the company says if they were released all at once, it would cause a catastrophe.

So why are they doing this? (Skip if you have a sensitive stomach.) Because 40 million people in China drink a potion that calls for crushed cockroaches.

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Elephant spraying itself

When elephants have tuberculosis (TB), they often don’t show the symptoms for it. In fact, the disease can remain dormant in an elephant for years before it’s detected. It also spreads from elephant to elephant, and since these animals are very social and zoos frequently trade them, the spread of TB is hard to control. It’s very expensive to test and treat elephants for TB, so it can be hard for zookeepers to track its spread.

Now a new machine learning model is tracking the disease better than any prior method. While a six percent increase in accuracy through this model may seem like only a small step forward, it can still save cash-strapped zoos a lot of money in testing and treatment. This machine learning tool draws from 20 years of elephant TB data, improving the odds of predicting which elephants are more likely to have the disease.

Photo by Andrew Rice on Unsplash

City roof tops

Have you ever wondered if your roof is a good candidate for solar panels? Of course sales people want you to believe it is, but if you want an unbiased opinion (or an opinion biased only on the datasets it uses), you can turn to Project Sunroof. This tool uses machine learning algorithms to identify if your roof is a good option for solar panels, based on Google Earth satellite images and meteorological data—and it’ll also estimate how much money you might save.

Photo by Alejandro Franco on Unsplash

View of Amazonian river

The Tembé people in Brazil work hard to stop invaders from cutting down their trees. Their 30 forest rangers have been patrolling the border of their lands on foot to protect it from abuse, but this approach has met conflict—deforesters sometimes bring armed guards who shoot and kill the Tembé people. With the help of Topher White from Rainforest Connection, they now use machine learning to identify and alert tribal leaders, in real time, of logging trucks and chainsaws in use on their property. The devices they mounted on various trees listen for sounds as far as a kilometer away, much farther than what the human ear can pick up. They can now use the copious amounts of time they used to spend patrolling toward other more productive activities.

Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

Ocean with evening sky

You’re at your desk in elementary school listening to your teacher describe how Baleen whales eat plankton as their food source, and you think it’s bizarre that such a large animal can survive on such tiny foodstuffs. But what your teacher doesn’t tell the class is that those tiny foodstuffs do much more than feed whales. They also act as ocean, lake, and river sensors because they’re extremely sensitive to shifts in water. If their behavior changes, it can indicate changing water quality or temperature. But we need to know more about plankton reactions to water changes to understand what these tiny creatures may be telling us. Maybe there’s been an oil spill, chemical runoff, or a looming red tide.

IBM has an idea. It’s created a small microscope for in-ocean observation of plankton behavior. Until now, scientists generally observe plankton behavior in a lab, but with IBM deploying their ocean microscopes around the world, or at least that’s the current aim, observing them in their natural habitat will help us understand plankton behavior better, hopefully leading to identifying when something goes wrong in our oceans.

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It can be hard to know which types of plastics are recyclable, and it can also be hard to motivate people to recycle. That’s why one company developed a robot to do that for us. Using cameras, sensors, and a Bayesian classifier, Trashbot scans and sorts trash as it’s thrown away in the Philadelphia airport so we don’t have to.

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Pile of plastic trash

It can be hard to know which types of plastics are recyclable, and it can also be hard to motivate people to recycle. That’s why one company developed a robot to do that for us. Using cameras, sensors, and a Bayesian classifier, Trashbot scans and sorts trash as it’s thrown away in the Philadelphia airport so we don’t have to.

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If you’ve ever been involved in a thermostat war, you know how hard it is to keep the temperature of your dwelling comfortable for you. The Nyala antelope feel your pain. They like a hot dwelling, and this British zoo that houses them wants them to be in the hotter temperatures they like—but it also wants to pay a lower energy bill while heating the enclosure. So they’re letting an algorithm decide when to turn on the heat lamps, instead of leaving them on all the time. This application uses image processing to identify when the Nyala antelope are inside their enclosure, and then it turns up the heat. It’s right 95 percent of the time, and they hope to up the accuracy.

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In the cover of night, when poachers seek their fortunes by killing forbidden treasures, like rhinos and elephants and big cats, this unmanned, autonomous drone uses a combo of infrared and AI to identify, watch, and follow humans. The aim is to help authorities catch the ignominious poachers. The creators hope to get the drone into the hands of park rangers in African National Parks.
This drone tech belongs to a group called Air Shepherd, which may bring to mind the group Sea Shepherd from Whale Wars. The shared shepherd name conjures up an image of plucky conservationists hunting and confronting pirates and poachers. But the Air Shepherd org seems to be more likely to operate inside the law than the controversial Sea Shepherd.

Watch how the drone works here: