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NEWS: 24th Nov 2017
SES Lecture Review - Dr Dirk Gorrisen

Dr Dirk Gorrisen’s recent talk on artificial intelligence and practical applications for the environment was very well received by a select audience of SES Members and Friends at the Park Tower Hotel. Currently working for Oxbotica, whose whizzy artificial intelligence is used in driverless cars, Dirk was full of enthusiasm for such remarkable technological advances. He was equally realistic about the complexities involved in developing reliable technology able to pinpoint objects in an endeavour to introduce these advancements into wider environments.


Dirk described the teething problems encountered during an early project ’Taarifa', which sought to remotely identify location of water points in Tanzania and whether indeed they were operational. During this, and other early trials, factors such as data exaggeration by locals, poorly defined targets, and sabotage for political gain often resulted in distorted findings. In addition, the trials were carried out in remote areas with limited capacity for communications, patchy coverage only compacted the difficulties in collating this remotely collected data. The concept behind the trials has, however, resulted in governments considering the efficiency of their programmes.

Dirk went on to talk about how he has used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). Initial trials of this technology were in tracing landmines from the air, and being able to distinguish them from other metallic objects. The application, whilst accurate in field trials, was less successful when using real data, but is being refined and he hopes this will be in use in the future. He has since developed a radio payload carried by drones in Borneo, which pick up signals from tagged orangutans allowing rangers to better monitor where this protected species are located in the rain forests. Despite a few early crashed drones and after a reduction in avionics noise, his trial with ever improving versions of this technology is going well, and once successful will be handed over to the rangers and local NGO’s as a valuable tool in protection of endangered wildlife.

Story by Henrietta Thorpe 

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