Robots join hunt for 'extinct' US woodpecker

To: "'Birding-aus'" <>
Subject: Robots join hunt for 'extinct' US woodpecker
From: "Alastair Smith" <>
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2007 20:19:11 +1100
Perhaps this is what we need to help solve the fig-parrot saga.

February 18, 2007 - 11:20AM

State-of-the-art robot technology has joined the hunt for the ivory-billed
woodpecker, one of America's most majestic birds that for decades was feared

Scientists from California and Texas have developed a robot that scan the
skies and pick out birds from other objects, using complex algorithms that
send cameras whirring into action whenever a bird is spotted.

The cameras have been installed in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge
in Arkansas, where conservationists hope they will capture evidence of the
elusive woodpecker, often described as "The Holy Grail" of birdwatchers.

The rare bird was believed to be extinct after it vanished six decades ago.
But a flurry of unconfirmed sightings in recent years, which included grainy
2004 video footage, has fueled speculation that it may have survived.

Now Mark Goldberg, from the University of California, Berkeley, and Song
Dezhen, from the Texas A and M University, hope their high-tech robot camera
will settle the debate once and for all.

Goldberg, speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of
Science's annual meeting here Saturday, said the project involved much more
than simply pointing video cameras at the sky.

"If you did that the computer's hard drive would be filled in no time," said
Goldberg. "The challenge is developing software that is able to distinguish
between birds and other moving objects."

With a high-resolution camera that is powerful enough to zoom in and read
information on a credit card around 20 feet (six meters) away, the
scientists are confident that if the woodpecker flies past, it will be
captured on film.

The computer software is also able to look past the unpredictable conditions
of the natural environment, filtering out false readings from clouds, water
reflections and natural leaves.

"The program knows, for instance, that the ivory-billed woodpecker flies 20
to 40 miles (32-64 kilometers) per hour, so anything outside that range is
deleted," said Song.

Data from the computer is collected every two weeks and sent to researchers
at Cornell University's ornithology lab as well as Texas A and M and
Berkeley for analysis. "If something really interesting is in the frame,
Cornell makes the call," Song said.

Song and Goldberg became interested in developing the bird-spotting
technology after reading a newspaper article about the search for the
ivory-billed woodpecker.

"If the system can catch any kind of bird, that's a success for us," said
Song. "But if it catches an ivory bill, it's a bonus."



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