Locating cattle with unmanned aerial vehicles

We are working to develop, test and demonstrate the latest thermal remote sensing technology on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to identify the location of livestock in extensive rangelands. By using a UAV platform, cattle can be located across very broad areas to assist producers in improving the efficiency, and reducing the cost, of mustering often done by helicopter at great expense.

The Challenge

Locating cattle can be costly and dangerous

The gross value of Australian cattle and calf production was estimated at $9 billion for 2013. The state of Queensland has Australia's largest beef cattle herd and is the nation's largest producer and exporter of beef.

The cost of mustering alone can be high (estimated to be average around $5-6/head per year for two musterings) and includes machinery, fuel, labour and maintenance costs. It can also have serious safety risks. In remote areas, some animals are not mustered due to their location being unknown or too difficult to access.

Our Response

UAVs provide new opportunities

We are currently leading research and development of applications for a range of precision livestock technologies. The use of UAVs as a platform for remote sensing applications is becoming a feasible option to add to this suite of technology solutions.

Eagle quad-rotor helicopter UAV platform with a thermal imaging camera attached.

The first phase of the project was run at the Lansdown Research Station near Townsville and brought together the latest remote sensing technology and domain know-how.

We have been able to evaluate the latest thermal imaging on a UAV platform as well as cutting-edge data processing techniques and bring them together with knowledge on how they might be applied in livestock management.

The Results

Promising initial tests of thermal imaging

A team of researchers has tested a thermal imaging instrument on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle platform to see how accurately they can identify the location of livestock in rangeland conditions.

The FLIR Tau 2 thermal camera is capable of 640 x 512 pixel resolution at 30 frames per second and is sensitive to the 7.5-13.5 µm spectral band. The team used an Eagle quad-rotor helicopter UAV platform, with in-house automation software providing mission control.

The imagery was processed to create a panoramic composite image of the entire flight area, and targets were then identified and compared to actual GPS location of the cattle.

Different test flights were undertaken to compare different landscapes (grasslands vs treed) and pre- and post- dawn to look at the effect of interference from direct solar infrared reflections, as well as changing temperature differential between living animals and the background.

A reliable and cost-effective system is required to detect animals across broad areas of differing landscapes. That way mustering can be better planned to optimise how resources are organised and cattle are gathered.

The next step is a larger scale assessment capturing more variation in environment, vegetation and cattle type, as well as testing the range of technology settings and different flight conditions such as altitude.

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