AI and Drone technology deployed to study melting glaciers
University of Aberystwyth works with Microsoft to bring next-gen technology into the fight against climate change.
Dr Joseph Cook of Aberystwyth University, Wales, is developing an AI and drone technology to track the melting of glaciers. It is common knowledge that glaciers are melting at an exponential rate; however, this effect is not experienced uniformly across the world as temperature fluctuations vary from country to country. Parts of Canada are finding temperatures rise twice as fast as the global average, with glaciers in the British Colombia area releasing 22bn cubic metres of water each year.
Dr Cook is looking to monitor microscopic organisms that endure the punishing conditions in the Arctic, in the hope of discovering a relationship between the melting icecaps and the microscopic life prevalent in the region.
Using drone technology, Dr Cook’s team were able to map the algae coverage of a 200m x 200m patch of its testing site.
“We trained an algorithm to read our field spectroscopy data and classify the ice surface into discrete categories. We then trained it using satellite imagery and used this to examine an area measuring 100 kilometres by 100 kilometres. The estimates of algal coverage this provided gave us data we could use to estimate the amount of melting that could be attributed to the algae,” explains Dr Cook.
The research is being conducted as part of the Microsoft AI for Earth grant. The grant puts “Microsoft cloud and AI tools in the hands of those working to solve global environmental challenges,” according to Microsoft’s website.
The fight against climate change has taken to AI as a powerful tool to conduct essential research and to support those looking to be the catalyst for change. AI has created more accurate climate models, helped ecologists track threatened wild animals by matching distinguishing markings and aided policy makers in understanding the factors involved in climate change.
AI has allowed scientists across the world to perform research and data analysis that could have taken considerable time under analogue methods. With AI, this can be reduced to mere minutes in some examples. The solution to climate change is still something that may take years to reach but by bringing in innovative technology to perform tasks normally out of human reach, scientists can drive progress forward. With individuals like Dr Cook battling the rising challenges facing our environment, we can begin to understand the consequences we have forced on our planet and how we can fix them before it’s too late.
How innovation is transforming government
According to Washington Technology’s Top 100 list, Leidos is the largest IT provider to the government. But as Lieutenant General William J. Bender explains, “that barely scratches the surface” of the company’s portfolio and drive for innovation.
Bender, who spent three and a half decades in the military, including a stint as the U.S. Air Force’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), has seen action in the field and in technology during that time, and it runs in the family. Bender’s son is an F-16 instructor pilot. So it stands to reason Bender Senior intends to ensure a thriving technological base for the U.S. Air Force. “What we’re really doing here is transforming the federal government from the industrial age into the information age and doing it hand-in-hand with industry,” he says.
The significant changes that have taken place in the wider technology world are precisely the capabilities Leidos is trying to pilot the U.S. Air Force through. It boils down to developing cyberspace as a new domain of battle, globally connected and constantly challenged by the threat of cybersecurity attacks.
“We recognize the importance of the U.S. Air Force’s missions,” says Bender, “and making sure they achieve those missions. We sit side-by-side with the air combat command, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure across the Air Force. There are multiple large programs where the Air Force is partnering with Leidos to ensure their mission is successfully accomplished 24/7/365. In this company, we’re all in on making sure there’s no drop in capability.”
That partnership relies on a shared understanding of delivering successful national security outcomes, really understanding the mission at hand, and Leidos’ long-standing relationship of over 50 years with the federal government.
To look at where technology is going, Bender thinks it is important to look back at the last 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve seen is a complete shift in how technology gets developed,” he says. “It used to be that the government invested aggressively in research and development, and some of those technologies, once they were launched in a military context, would find their way into the commercial space. That has shifted almost a hundred percent now, where the bulk of the research and development dollars and the development of tech-explicit technologies takes place in the commercial sector.”
“There’s a long-standing desire to adopt commercial technology into defense applications, but it’s had a hard time crossing the ‘valley of death’ [government slang for commercial technologies and partnerships that fail to effectively transition into government missions]. Increasingly we’re able to do that. We need to look at open architectures and open systems for a true plug-and-play capability. Instead of buying it now and trying to guess what it’s going to be used for 12 years from now, it should be evolving iteratively.”