With all of the environmental changes affecting the Arctic sea ice, polar bears are having a difficult time surviving. There are only 25,000 polar bears in the world and these numbers could drop even further as the ice continues to melt.

The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have teamed up with aerospace contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. to develop an autonomous hexacopter drone to monitor changes in ice and polar bear populations. The technology is strong enough to withstand the harsh environment in the Arctic Circle, allowing a drone to be brought on an expedition to study the behavior of the polar bears as the seasons get longer and the ice is freezing later.

The unmanned aerial vehicle will use sensors to map and understand the sea ice formations. It uses a DJI Matrice 600 Pro hexacopter, with a “sensor pod” containing an extremely high-resolution DSLR camera, a five-band multispectral sensor generally marketed for crop monitoring, and a radar to measure ice thickness. The drone will fly over a given path but it will also use a machine learning algorithm that will help the operators know where the polar bears are. The AI will hopefully learn how to track polar bears and help the researchers learn more about how global warming is affecting their population.

Written by IEEE on November 29, 2017