BRINKLEY - Computer scientists from Texas A&M University and the University
of California, Berkeley, have installed a robot in the Cache River National
Wildlife Refuge to help natural scientists from Cornell University's
Laboratory of Ornithology and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission find
the rare ivory-billed woodpecker.
The computer scientists - Dr. Dezhen Song, assistant professor in Texas
A&M's Department of Computer Science, and Dr. Kenneth Y. Goldberg,
professor in UC Berkeley's departments of Electrical Engineering and
Computer Sciences, and Industrial Engineering and Operations Research -
developed the robot, Automated Collaborative Observatory for Natural
Environments, to scan the skies near Brinkley.
"If the system can catch any kind of bird, that's a success for us," Song
said. "But if it catches an ivory-bill, that's a bonus."
With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Song and Goldberg
programmed ACONE to distinguish birds from other objects and only record
the birds with its two digital cameras.
"It's a fast, flying object," Song said. "And also, the shape of the object
— the shape of the bird - isn't regular. It's deformable and from the
lighting conditions, it's very difficult to capture."
The robot stores images of the birds it has recorded in the hard disks of
its computer. The computer as well as the cameras are housed in
"If you put a normal computer out there, it wouldn't function very long
because of the humidity and the rain," Song said.
The hard disks are removed routinely from the computer by birdwatcher M.
David Luneau, associate professor in the University of Arkansas at Little
Rock's Department of Engineering Technology. Luneau enlists fellow
birdwatchers to scrutinize the images stored in the hard disks for a shot
of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
In addition to Luneau, the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., Arkansas
Game and Fish Commission, Audubon Arkansas, Nature Conservancy in Arkansas,
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Woodruff Electric Cooperative Corp. have
volunteered to help Song and Goldberg install, maintain and power ACONE.
"You want to have these people help you," Song said. "Otherwise, you have a
Song and Goldberg took interest in the search for the ivory-billed
woodpecker after Goldberg read an article about the search in The New York
Goldberg contacted the co-leaders of the search from Cornell's Laboratory
of Ornithology to volunteer systems he and Song were developing through
their project, Collaborative Observatories for Natural Environments.
"Cornell's ornithology lab and Arkansas Game and Fish are crucial members
of this team," Goldberg said. "They've been leading the search in
CacheRiver and have a deep understanding of the bird and this environment."
Scott Henderson, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said he
looks forward to continued cooperation among groups studying the
"It's exciting for this agency to be involved in cutting-edge technology as
we continue to research and understand what can be done to improve the
habitat for this bird," he said. "We're pleased to be working alongside our
partners in this ambitious venture."
CONE proposes to help natural scientists observe animals - whether birds or
mammals - in the animals' habitats. Song and Goldberg have developed robots
to webcast images of animals from the animals' habitats to natural
In addition to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, they've installed
one of their robots in the Richardson Bay Audubon Sanctuary in California.
Song and Goldberg have considered sites in Alaska and Rwanda to observe
polar bears and gorillas, respectively.
"Our goal is to use the emerging capabilities of computers and networks to
better understand the natural world," Goldberg said. "It's very exciting to
work with researchers in fields beyond engineering."
The ivory-billed woodpecker seemed to have disappeared sometime in the
1940s. In 2004, it was spotted in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge.
For more information about ACONE, visit http://www.c-o-n-e.org/acone.