Research ND grant awarded to the University of North Dakota, partnering with local startup, Airtonomy, to develop AI-driven solutions to wildlife inspections

Grand Forks, ND – February 20, 2020 – The University of North Dakota (UND), partnering with local startup, Airtonomy, has been awarded a Research ND grant from the North Dakota Department of Commerce to develop monitoring protocols of bird and bat mortalities using small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) on Xcel Energy wind sites.

In addition to wildlife assessment, the grant provides Airtonomy with new resources to accelerate development of its fully autonomous solution for critical asset inspection, beginning with wind turbines but soon expanding to other energy infrastructure.

Fueled by a Microsoft “AI for Earth” grant, Airtonomy is working with Dr. Susan EllisFelege in the Biology Department at UND and Xcel Energy to develop the AI-powered routines that facilitate automated bird and bat mortality surveys in an effort to meet industry compliance standards required after construction of wind sites.

“Current environmental survey costs are significant. Assessments require a person to walk hundreds of miles a month at a wind farm to locate, identify, and collect carcasses to record mortalities and remove them to minimize vulnerability of scavengers such as eagles,” said Dr. Susan Ellis-Felege. “Reduction in costs and effort through new sUAS methodologies could lead to not only better post-construction monitoring approaches, but also help facilitate pre-construction assessment of potential wind energy sites.”

The project builds upon a previous Research ND effort that produced a recently awarded Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) autonomous multi-drone inspection (AMDI) operational waiver, submitted under Xcel Energy’s UAS Integration Pilot Program designation.

The goal of Research ND is to have a long-term positive impact on the State and Private Sector through various means including, but not limited to; economic diversification, improved production factors, and the development of new markets.

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