wildlife radio-tracking drone
Researchers at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney have developed a world-first radio-tracking drone to locate radio-tagged wildlife. Lead researcher Debbie Saunders and associate professor Adrian Manning tested the drone on rat-kangaroos, or bettongs, in Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve, which is on the northern outskirts of Canberra, Australia. Australian National University

A team of researchers from the University of Sydney and the Australian National University, or ANU, have designed a radio-tracking system that uses drones to track the radio-tagged wildlife. The world's first device of its own kind has been developed with the support of the bettong or the rat-kangaroo, population in Canberra. Rat-kangaroos, or Hypsiprymnodon moschatus, is a marsupial species found only in the Australian rainforest.

The researchers believe that the success in designing the radio-tracking system is a big step toward scientific animal tracking. The technique makes use of a drone device that hovers over bushes, identified the radio-tagged animals and points out their location based on the coordinates of the radio transmitters tagged on them.

"What's really unique about it is that it's a really small, portable system and we're able to detect the standard radio tracking equipment that researchers are using all around the world, but we're able to do it in a more rapid, accurate and efficient way," said lead researcher Debbie Saunders from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.

According to Saunders, the radio-tracking system weighs as little as one gramme. The innovative device was developed in association with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, or ACFR, and was recently tested at the bettong sanctuary at Mulligans Flat, Canberra.

Saunders believes that the little machine will help researchers track the world's smallest and least-known animals from nearly inaccessible areas. In addition, the aerial robot is expected to help the wildlife enthusiasts with rapid, accurate identification and search of the radio-tagged animals.

As of now, the team of researchers has conducted more than 150 test flights that have yielded significant positive results. The drone has been used to accurately find and map the location of the bettongs with radio tags.

"The bettongs were a nice choice because they're one that is particularly tricky to track on the ground, because if you disturb them they will run away," explained Saunders.

"We can begin to learn more about a lot of the world's smallest species that move in unpredictable ways."