Anti-poaching drone on the horizon
Robert Miller loves wildlife.
So much that he is building a drone to protect wildlife from poachers.
The Cape Town, South Africa based software engineer is working on a project called Tihlo Henhla (Tsonga word for “Eye Above”), whose plan is to build unmanned aerial vehicles that will give wildlife proprietors a fighting chance against poachers in their quest to protect endangered species.
“Just a small height advantage can allow ground teams to cover hundreds of square kilometres quickly and easily, scoping difficult terrain in minutes rather than hours,” says Miller, who will be funding the project. “This advantage allows antipoaching units to respond fast and effectively, ensuring that every second and every action counts.”
Named the Telluraves TR200 Raptor, the new anti-poaching drone will be capable of flying for up to six hours while carrying a payload of 2,2 kilogrammes (with the payload, the drone will have a total weight of 6,4kg). Also, according to Miller, the fixed-wing drone will be capable of taking off and landing vertically, autonomously executing planned missions; has built-in artificial intelligence for analysis of camera and sensor data and is able to autonomously identify and begin tracking a verified target.
“In the long run, we aim to setup a crowdfunded and donation-based model to help build a fleet of UAVs,” Miller says. “These will be deployed at vulnerable reserves and poaching hot spots around South Africa. Which means that for the first time, smaller reserves with limited resources can benefit from airborne technology without incurring huge costs.”
The drones will be maintained centrally, with users having access to Tihlo Henhla’s maintenance department to ensure that the drones are maintained at a high level and continue to function at full capability.
In addition to that, Tihlo Henhla will establish a ranger drone pilot training program and a unit to develop additional affordable technology, that can be employed on the front line, including body armour, low-cost night vision, augmented reality systems and centralised flight operations.
Robert hopes the TR200 will be ready for launch next month.
“The aim of this project has always been to design a drone platform which has been built in Africa for use in the harsh and unforgiving African landscape. To this end extensive research has gone into what is required to make a drone viable in the Southern African arena, with most of the technology having been built from the ground up.”
Poaching has been a big problem in Southern Africa, especially for the rhinoceros and the elephant, which are coveted for their horns and tusks. Nearly 10,000 rhinos have been killed in South Africa through poaching activities. The numbers have been declining, but 400 rhinos were still murdered for their horns in 2019; and if the Eye Above can work to reduce these numbers, then our parks and conservancies will be really grateful.