The team’s project has reached the finals of the global XPRIZE Rainforest competition which encourages the development of technology to measure and monitor the rainforest ecosystem.
The competition has a prize fund of $10 million (€9.1million) and is designed to encourage the development of technologies to monitor, measure and assess the complex ecosystem.
The Swiss team’s drones operate by collecting environmental DNA samples without needing to enter the rainforest itself. The collected data can then be used to identify hundreds of plant and animal species.
Environmental DNA refers to genetic traces of plants and animals in a particular area that can help prove if a given animal or plant lives in the area.
Among the technology developed by the team are drones capable of collecting air samples as well as another device that can be winched from a drone to collect swabs of plants in the forest canopy.
“We brought here mainly two types of drones,” Stefano Mintchev, Assistant Professor of Environmental Robotics at ETH Zurich, explained.
“We added a custom payload and with this custom payload we are able to collect air to sample airborne eDNA,” he said.
The second payload is a probe that we can lower inside the canopy in order to collect surface eDNA by swabbing the vegetation that we encounter when the probe moves up and down into the canopy,” Mintchev added.
The XPRIZE semi-final in Singapore saw 13 teams competing to demonstrate the effectiveness of their technologies with 24 hours to collect data and another 48 hours to analyse their findings and compile a report.
The researchers were tasked with identifying as many species of plants and animals as possible across a designated plot without actually setting foot in the jungle.
The Swiss team will join five other groups in the XPRIZE Rainforest final next year.
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Video editor • Aisling Ní Chúláin