Robotics Company Offers $25K To Whomever Can Build Poacher-Tracking Drone On The Cheap

By Philip Ross on October 6, 2013 1:56 PM EDT

elephant poaching
Elephant and rhino poaching is still a huge problem in Africa. It's a multi-billion dollar business, and law enforcement are constantly looking for new ways to track and stop poachers. (Photo: Reuters)
elephant poaching 2
Park rangers walk past the carcass of an elephant killed after drinking poisoned water near a water hole in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Zimbabwean ivory poachers have killed more than 80 elephants by poisoning water holes with cyanide, endangering one of the world's biggest herds. (Photo: Reuters)

A robotics company is offering a $25,000 reward - and a 10-day trip to South Africa's Kruger National Park - to whichever team can develop a low-cost poacher-tracking aerial drone capable of following African rhino and elephant poachers. The organization hosting the competition, Kashmir Robotics, challenged teams of engineers to design drones on a budget of just $3,000, Popular Science reports.

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That means the software and hardware costs can't exceed the budget. The goal is to find a cheap design for a drone, which could prove useful in countering rhino and elephant poachers who operate in remote places in Africa's parks where law enforcement has trouble getting to.

The deadline for entries is December 1. The winning team will be asked to develop their poacher-tracking drone design by next year, when they'll be invited to test their aerial drone at Kruger.

According to South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs, poachers, armed with an array of weapons, have slaughtered 265 rhinos in Kruger National Park this year alone. An additional 143 have been killed in other areas of the county. In Zimbabwe, poachers are even poisoning elephants' water supplies with cyanide to fell the giant land mammals.

The stakes are high, but the payoff is great for those in the illegal trade of animal parts. It's an industry worth $7 billion to $10 billion annually, according to The Atlantic. Popular Science notes that a single horn from a rare rhino can fetch upwards of $300,000 in Vietnam.

Drones offer an alternative to tracking poachers in Africa because of their ability to spot activity on the ground from high up in the air, and transmit that data to law enforcement. But most drones, like military drones, are too expensive to be used for tracking poachers.

The Kashmir Robotics competition is by no means the first attempt at using drones to stop illegal poaching. In 2012, Google donated $5 million to the World Wildlife Federation to develop a fleet of surveillance drone program for tracking poachers in Africa.

According to Vice's Motherboard, the drones are hand-launched, can travel around 20 miles and stay in the air for about an hour. Already successfully used in Nepal, the drones have sent back date that has helped rangers capture poachers, and also serve as a deterrent to poaching activities.

Read more from iScience Times:

Poachers In Zimbabwe Poison 87 Elephants For Their Ivory

Cold War Nuclear Fallout Could Put Elephant Ivory Poachers Behind Bars [REPORT]

Elephant Tramples Poacher To Death: What Happened To Solomon Manjoro? [VIDEO]

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