One of my favorite The Simpsons episodes growing up was “Bart vs. Australia”. Besides being a hilarious episode, it introduced me to the concept of invasive plant species. In it, Bart Simpson brings a bullfrog into Australia which causes a domino effect of environmental destruction. Growing up, I realized it is sadly not just a made-up thing by The Simpsons writers but a major problem affecting the world.
Organisms that are not native to the host ecosystem can cause significant damage by out-competing the native plants for resources. It can also introduce new diseases and alter the overall habitat. There is no real solution to deal with invasive species other than removing them, and this has been done for centuries by hand. Intel’s AI drones are potentially a game-changer capable of dealing with invasive species.
Dealing with buffelgrass
Back when I was a kid, I used to look around at airports for people bringing invasive animals or plants with them, but that is not a common occurrence. Buffelgrass, the invasive plant that Intel is fighting with its drones, was voluntarily introduced.
Many of our parks have delicate ecosystems. In the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, saguaro cacti, Joshua trees, and other native plants are threatened by the introduction of #InvasiveSpecies like like buffelgrass which increases the likelihood of destructive wildfire. #raiseawareness pic.twitter.com/T6lO7KZ0Nv
— Western National Parks Association (@wnpa1938) March 7, 2022
Circa 1930, the United States started importing this plant from its native habitat in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Buffelgrass is a plant capable of quickly re-growing after a fire and can be used for erosion control and cattle forage alike, so at the time, it seemed logical. However, buffelgrass has since been attributed to be invasive, killing native plant species, and, even worse, having a low ignition threshold. Although it regrows easily after a fire, it will as easily burn in the first place. This would result in fire spreading to the rest of the plants which won’t regrow quickly.
Identifying invasive species
Intel’s drones are playing a crucial role in detecting and mapping the spread of buffelgrass, helping to guide targeted removal efforts over one of the most affected areas: Scottsdale, Arizona. Until now, human volunteering was the only thing keeping the buffelgrass from taking over the desert. Intel’s AI-powered drones are trained to tell apart native from invasive species of grass and thus speed up the process.
Inter claims what used to take volunteers years of fieldwork can now be mapped within mere hours with its drones. While its drones are a blessing for the Arizona desert and its upkeep, this technology has a lot of potential outside of it. Recognizing invasive species can save thousands of ecosystems and habitats worldwide.
Using Intel’s AI-powered drones in the fight against invasive species is still in its infancy, but one day, it could uproot all invasive species, be it plants or animals. While The Simpsons have been notorious for unknowingly “predicting the future”, we can only hope that the episode on “Bart vs. Australia” won’t follow the same course.
YouTube: Saving the Desert with AI and Drones