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Haileybury’s Young Drone Whizzes Win National Competition

NEWS 22 Mar 2022

The Black Summer bushfires destroyed more than 24 million hectares of land and around 3 billion animals, including kangaroos, koalas, reptiles and birds, were killed or lost their natural habitat. WWF Australia says the extent and ferocity of the fires may have pushed some species closer to the brink of extinction.

However, four young students from Haileybury have developed bushfire drone technology that could one day save Australia’s flora and fauna from such devastation—and their ingenuity has seen them win a national award.

The Year 9 students, who were members of the Haileybury extra-curricular Year 8 Digitech Explorers program in 2021, progressed through the State Finals late last year.

Chengyun Xu, Nabhanya Gupta, Vinay Raghavan, Sanjay Parappat

Last week, they beat off stiff competition from other schools across Australia and New Zealand to win the 2021 Young ICT Explorers National Finals Competition.

Chengyun Xu, Vinay Raghavan, Sanjay Parappat and Nabhanya Gupta investigated how drone technology could be used to measure the impact of bushfires on the environment. Their invention can conduct aerial surveys of a specific area and collect data on the numbers of local animals and information about how the local flora has been impacted.

“The drone has been designed to conduct aerial surveys of an environment and provide data on the number of local animals and the flora species in a given area,” says Damian Del Vecchio, Digitech Explorers Program Leader.

“When a bushfire impacts that area, the drone would then be re-launched to survey the damage and collect data on affected species of animals. It can also provide real-time alerts to help identify injured wildlife.”

The drone uses a gyroscopically stabilised camera and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to view landscapes and wildlife. The students uploaded thousands of images of animals, plants, shrubs and trees to build their own database that enables the AI to correctly identify specific species with more than 90 per cent accuracy.

“The hardest part of the project was definitely the AI”
Sanjay Parappat, Nabhanya Gupta, Chengyun Xu, Vinay Raghavan

“Early on our AI sometimes recognised certain images incorrectly or with a low degree of certainty. We had to make many different training models, changing some of the testing variables, before we were able to achieve good accuracy.”

“Originally, we planned to use our drone for agricultural purposes but throughout 2021, we came across so many powerful articles about the 2020 bushfires and their impacts. These included many images of animals that were severely injured by the fires,” says Chengyun.

“I think these images were the final straw which swayed our choice to change our idea and make the Bushfire Recovery AI Drone, or BRAID.”

Sanjay hopes to continue building his computing and engineering skills at Haileybury.

“I hope to get into biomedical engineering, where I can use my computer engineering skills as well as my interest in biology to help others. The skills that I now know will definitely help me in this career,” says Sanjay.

Gerard O’Dwyer, Head of STEM Programs at the Haileybury Newlands campus, says the students’ achievements are impressive, particularly as they began developing the project during lockdown last year.

“This year’s results build on the incredible success of Haileybury Newlands’ Digitech Explorers students in this competition. Since 2015, students have won six national awards and 27 state awards,” he says.

“The hard work, persistence and commitment of all the students and staff involved is to be commended.”