Thursday, 13 December 2018 10:51

Wildlife Drones raises funds, launches drone radio-tracking system


Australian tech start-up Wildlife Drones is set to launch its drone radio-tracking system to market after closing a seed funding round of $670,000.

The seeding round included Australian research commercialisation fund, Uniseed, and Wildlife Drones says the funding will enable it to launch its “world-first” drone radio-tracking solution in the Australian and New Zealand markets.

The seed round also included contributions from angel investors, and Wildlife Drones says it will enable it to translate its “cutting-edge technology” into user-friendly alpha and beta versions of its product for its first customers, including wildlife researchers and invasive species managers.

According to Wildlife Drones, the technology brings wildlife tracking into the 21st century – until now, the tracking of wildlife has relied on researchers walking, often for hours or days, with their arm in the air searching for the signal of one animal at a time.

Wildlife Drones founder and chief executive, researcher Debbie Saunders, conceived the idea when trying to solve her own tracking problems, and she says the business was helped to get off the ground in the early stages by CSIRO’s ON and the ACT Innovation Connect programs, which help researchers create businesses from their work.

“Wildlife Drones has the potential to radically transform animal tracking, giving the wildlife management industry vastly more confidence and ability to fulfil its important role in protecting the environment,” said Uniseed Investment manager Natasha Rawlings.

“There is nothing else like it on the market. Uniseed is proud to have backed what really is pioneering technology in such an important space.”

According to Wildlife Drones, the market need for more effective animal and pest tracking and research methods is growing due to increased urbanisation and farming of lands for food and biofuels, which is increasing the number of threatened species and vertebrate pests.

The start-up says research indicates that the global integrated pest management market size was US$91.8 billion (A$125.37 billion) in 2016,while the agriculture drone market will grow at a CAGR of more than 30% over the next 10 years.

Wildlife Drones says its technology maps radio-tagged animals in real-time, and has a number of distinct advantages over existing, hand-held tracking technology.

Via a small drone clip-on, the system:

  • Can track hundreds of animals simultaneously instead of just one at a time; 
  • Can track any combination of animals with radio-tags attached, such as predator and prey, invasive and threatened species or stock and farm dogs;
  • Listens and locates signals from a distance so the animals are not disturbed;
  • Provides safe access to rugged or dangerous terrain that prohibits traditional tracking; and
  • Displays all location data live on a map, even when offline.

Wildlife Drones says the technology was recently used to track the movements of the Swift Parrot, one of Australia’s most endangered birds, which were also the original inspiration for developing the system. It was the first time drones have ever been used successfully to radio-track multiple small birds at the same time and see the results live on a base station.

“Radio-tracking drones are in demand because traditional hand-held radio-tracking is incredibly labour-intensive and time consuming,” said Saunders.

“The capability of our technology supports more robust research and empowers those tracking animal movements to undertake their work in a way that was not previously possible. Managers and researchers can now more safely, easily and quickly cover large areas without going anywhere.  The drone does all the hard work for them and provides real-time feedback on the results.

“We’re excited to now be able to launch our technology to market.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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