No, The CSIRO Isn’t Launching A Cow Into Orbit

No, The CSIRO Isn’t Launching A Cow Into Orbit
Image: Getty

The CSIRO reckons it has the answer for managing feral cattle and buffalo in Australia’s Top End, and that answer is of course AI.

Partnering with Microsoft, the CSIRO has launched a project dubbed SpaceCows. It’s less a program to send cows into space and more a web of tracking tech that feeds data in from a range of sources, including GPS-tagged animals and Low Earth Orbit satellites. Data on the terrain and weather will also be fed into the system.

Tag data will be collected using local company Kinéis’ 25 nanosatellites IoT constellation, at an altitude of 650km.

The animals will be tracked across a combined 22,000-plus square kilometre area, taking in the Arafura swamp catchment in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and Upper Normanby and Archer River on Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula.

With a $4 million kitty to spend over four years, the CSIRO and Microsoft have been developing AI algorithms and machine learning pipelines that will act as the digital foundations for the SmartHerd management program.

The program will see more than 1000 unmanaged cows and buffalos electronically tracked using GPS satellite tracking tags.

SpaceCows, the CSIRO says, will allow for movement prediction and better manage the destruction the animals create. The aim is to turn the destructive pests into economic, environmental and cultural opportunities for Indigenous communities.

Rangers on the ground will provide feedback on the tech, which will be used to finesse the machine learning models. CSIRO is hopeful the combination of a mint machine learning model and up-to-the-minute space sourced data will help rangers make real-time decisions.

AI will also be deployed to help plan the best routes for rangers to reach and manage the animals using quad bikes or helicopters, factoring in issues such as terrain and on-ground conditions.

The project is an extension of the Healthy Country AI partnership with CSIRO and Indigenous organisations, and builds on some of the AI projects the CSIRO already has underway, including an environmental monitoring system that uses AI with the goal of bringing an end to plastic waste.