India is a biodiversity hotspot and home to over 1300 species of birds. While, these beautiful creatures are vital in maintaining the overall ecological balance, their natural habitats are increasingly under threat. A recent report, State of the World’s Birds 2018, found that one in eight birds is in danger of extinction, and 40% of the world’s 10,000+ species are declining thanks to climate change, logging, industrial farming and various other factors. Hence there is a pressing need to build an impactful and scalable conservation model, so as to engage more people, organizations and communities working in this space.
Realizing the urgency to identify and preserve birds as well as spread awareness in this area, IT consultancy firm Accenture has developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based Birds platform – a first of its kind in India – that identifies bird species found in the country, in association with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), a non-governmental wildlife research organization.
In an engaging conversation with CXOToday, Sanjay Podder, Managing Director at Accenture Labs (Asia Pacific) explains the technology and the rationale behind this initiative.
“We realized that most people find it difficult to identify rare birds unless they are experts or have read books on ornithology. While our country is home to a spectacularly diverse set of birds, it lacked a large centralized repository to help amateur bird lovers and conservationalists accurately identify them. This is when Accenture Labs started working with BNHS to design and develop the Internet of Birds platform,” he says.
Based in Mumbai, BNHS has been working on nature conservation and research projects in the sub-continent for the last 136 years. Launched initially as a web portal, Accenture has recently launched a mobile application for BNHS, which extends the functionality of the platform to mobile devices. The Internet of Birds platform initially identified nearly 100 species of birds in India, and can now identify nearly 700.
On the technology behind the concept, Podder says, “Internet of Birds is a cloud-based, image recognition and deep learning platform which uses AI, including machine learning and computer vision. The platform has been trained on birds found in the Indian subcontinent using a convolutional neural network, which is a deep learning algorithm that can take in an image and assign importance to various aspects in the image, with the ability to differentiate between images.”
He adds that it also uses a unique citizen crowd sourcing approach under which bird watchers can contribute to the platform by uploading information on rare birds that they come across. Data from BNHS helps confirm the identity of the birds and trains the application’s deep learning model. Each time a picture is contributed to the system, it teaches itself, increasing the platform’s accuracy in the recognition of bird species.
“In addition, its AI at the edge functionality enables mobile access to the information in remote locations such as deep jungles with poor or no internet connectivity,” says Podder.
Accenture Labs in Bangalore has provided pro-bono services to BNHS to design and build the Internet of Birds platform as part of its broader corporate focus on using technology for good. The IT firm’s Tech4Good program leverages emerging digital technologies and works with social innovators, academia, startups and government to address sustainable development goals across education, health, environment, inclusion and diversity.
Asked if the Internet of Birds use case can be replicated for other conservation solutions that leverage image identification, Podder says, “The AI at the edge functionality of the app could potentially be used in scenarios where connecting to the cloud introduces a lag or is simply not possible due to lack of connectivity.”
“The model can be applied to explore locations that are either inaccessible or hazardous for human beings such as in mines, underwater, or in space, and can be used in a variety of mission-critical industry use cases that enable safety, equipment diagnostics and troubleshooting.”
Needless to say, advanced technology is enabling new ways of mining data in the wildlife preservation activities around the world. In India, the concept is relatively nascent. There’s still a long way to go in terms of new product development and research.
While more research is going on in areas, such as IoT, big data, and advanced analytics for species protection and the public good in a scalable and sustainable manner, the Internet of Birds is a powerful example of how technology such as AI and deep learning can help drive innovation that benefits our communities and our planet.