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Robot twitcher to scan skies for rare bird
The world's first robot twitcher has joined the hunt for the
ivory-billed woodpecker. The device's inventors hope it will
come up with the first hard evidence for the elusive bird's
existence, and say it could monitor other rare species.
Hopes in the world of ornithology had been raised in 2004 by a
tantalising video apparently showing an example of the
ivory-billed woodpecker, previously believed to have died out in
the 1930s in swampy forest in the south-eastern US.
But researchers could not agree on whether the blurred images
were the real thing or a similar species, the pileated
woodpecker. To settle the issue, a robotic bird-watcher will
scan the skies continuously in the hope it will crack the "holy
grail of bird-watching" with video proof.
"A single photographic frame would have to clearly show the
unique markings of the ivory-billed woodpecker," said Ken
Goldberg at the University of California, Berkeley.
"Much better would be a high-resolution video clip that would
also capture its unique wing and flight patterns."
The system is a high-resolution digital camera pointed at the
sky in the Cache river national wildlife refuge in Arkansas
which records 11 two-megapixel images a second. It sifts the
images for ones containing birds, and throws out the rest so as
not to clog up its hard drive.
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is to develop the software that can process the images in real
time to throw out everything that is not a bird," said Prof
Goldberg.The camera looks for rapid changes from one image to the
next in a small area of the field of view. If these have an
irregular shape and are moving at flying speed, the robot twitcher
keeps them for researchers to look at later.
It has captured a red-tailed hawk, a great blue heron and a flock
of Canada geese; but so far there has been no sign of the