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Robotics and Automated Systems for Environmental Sustainability: Monitoring Terrestrial Biodiversity

Pringle, Stephen and Davies, Zoe G. and Goddard, Mark A. and Dallimer, Martin and Hart, Emma and Le Goff, Léni E. and Langdale, Simon J. (2023) Robotics and Automated Systems for Environmental Sustainability: Monitoring Terrestrial Biodiversity. Technical report. EPSRC UK-RAS Network 10.31256/WP2023.4. (doi:10.31256/WP2023.4) (KAR id:103365)


It is critical to protect Earth’s biodiversity, not just for its own intrinsic value, but also for the ecosystem services it underpins. Yet biodiversity is in crisis, with up to 1 million animal and plant species at risk of extinction, many within decades. This dire projection has captured world attention and triggered major mitigation efforts, but we are faced with problems in assessing global trends in biodiversity – which species, taxa, habitats and ecosystems are suffering the greatest declines? Are current mitigation measures having any positive impact? To answer key questions such as these, ecologists are seeking the help of robotics and automated systems (RAS) experts in the monumental task of attempting to monitor the state of biodiversity. In this White Paper, we have surveyed recent literature and consulted more than 120 international expert ecologists and engineers working in the fields of biodiversity and robotics. We have done this to evaluate the potential for developing robotic and autonomous systems that could massively extend the scope of terrestrial biodiversity monitoring across habitats globally. The complexities of biodiversity itself, and the many barriers and challenges that must be overcome in monitoring it, are formidable. We assess each of these barriers in turn, highlighting currently available RAS solutions, as well as nascent technologies that may be relevant to future RAS for biodiversity (RAS-BD) monitoring. Using this information, we have drawn up a roadmap of actions needed to address the barriers that should be easiest to overcome. Encouragingly, we find that a variety of existing RAS capabilities may be transferable to a biodiversity monitoring context. Beyond these are the harder barriers, where promising novel ideas being researched at UK universities and research institutes may, in time, become integral parts of future RAS-BD monitoring technology. We believe that RAS-BD technology has great potential to complement and considerably extend the field survey work undertaken by expert human observers. In the UK, we are fortunate in having particular strengths in both biodiversity and robotics research; as a nation we are in an ideal position to integrate them and become a leading force in the development and application of RAS-BD monitoring. To this end, we propose these recommendations that we hope will guide future government strategy in an area that is vital to the future of humanity:

● The creation and funding of an integrated multidisciplinary task force, including academics and industry specialists with expertise in RAS and biodiversity, to support technological research and development.

● Future UK funding and focus should be prioritised to utilise existing RAS capabilities to develop first generation RAS-BD technology for monitoring biodiversity.

● Relevant nascent technologies being researched by numerous UK academic teams need increased and accelerated research and development funding to turn pioneering concepts into enhanced RAS-BD technology suited to overcoming the hardest monitoring barriers that ecologists encounter.

● Education strategies should be developed to foster links between aspiring engineers, biologists and computer technologists, both in the curriculum of schools, and at later stages in universities and research facilities.

Item Type: Reports and Papers (Technical report)
DOI/Identification number: 10.31256/WP2023.4
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH75 Conservation (Biology)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
Depositing User: Zoe Davies
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2023 11:51 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2024 13:53 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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