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Microsoft and Amazon interested in investing in HERE

HERE - mapping van

In August 2015 Audi, BMW and Daimler acquired HERE – Nokia’s mapping brand – for  €2.8 billion ($3.1 billion) which was the biggest mapping deal since… well… since Nokia acquired HERE (formerly known as Navteq) for €5.7 billion ($8.1 billion) back in 2007.

The decrease in value might be really sticking but one must remember that in the same year Apple released the first iPhone with free of charge Google Maps app which totally changed the navigation industry. The acquisition of HERE by German car makers is also an indicator that things in the industry are about to change… and the change is related to driverless cars.

There are four components needed for a self-driving car to become a reality on roads around the world: hardware (cars with a lot of sensors), software (smart algorithms that will safely interpret signals from these sensors), legislation (laws which will allow the car to drive without a human driver), and… Maps which are needed for the car to know where to go and how to get there as car sensors are not enough to safely get you from A to B.

If fact without high-quality 3D maps there are no autonomous vehicles and the biggest car makers seems to understand it well. Last year we’ve seen Uber, Tesla and Toyota showing plans for their own mapping solutions. The idea is simple, each car collects huge amount data from GPS, cameras, lasers and other sensors. If properly used, this data could create a closed road change detection environment that would automatically update maps in a real-time. Where huge amount of data is collected (we talk about terabytes of date per car per year), efficient cloud computing and storage is needed. This why according to sourced related to Reuters both Microsoft and Amazon want to secure their interests and become the primary providers of cloud computing to HERE and possibly the automotive industry in general.

Meanwhile TomTom is also quietly building its own mapping solution for autonomous cars that already covers thousands of kilometres of roads in Germany and the US, Google is testing their own autonomous car and Apple seems to be joining the race as well… Interesting times…

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How drones help to fight against wildlife crime in Africa?

white-rhino-africa-geoawesomenessPoaching is a deadly crime against wildlife. Illegal hunters kill tens of millions of animals every year. According to UCLA horns and ivory are more valuable than cocaine or even gold, so poaching is clearly a lucrative business on the black market. The numbers are staggeringly high. Last year, 1,175 rhinos were poached, and its population is down 97.6% since 1960. Up to 35,000 African elephants were killed in 2015. Researchers estimate that, at current poaching pace, African rhinos will be extinct in 20, and elephants will be gone in 10 years. Other animals are also at a great risk of extinction. In fact Lion already extinct in seven african countries. There are approximately 2,000 Grevy’s Zebras and fewer than 900 Mountain Gorilla left alive.

How to use technologies of the XXI century to fight agains wildlife crime?

The answer is simple: drones! The idea to use drones in anti-poaching is not unique. Multiple test have been conducted in South Africa and Kenya but until recently the high-tech UVA technology has been reserved mainly to military purposes and military technology comes with a price tag and some governments are nervous about allowing its unrestricted use within their airspace.

With the recent development of hobbyist’s and commercial non-military drones, the technology got much cheaper and easier to operate. First wide-scale tests of non-military UVAs started in Olifants West Nature Reserve in South Africa back in 2013 and were followed by another projects. One the them called AREND (that stands for Aircraft for Rhino and ENvironmental Defense) has been launched in 2014 as a student research project established by 4 universities from the US, South Africa, Finland and France. Another trials have been performed in Kenya in 2014 as a cooperation of Airware – a California-based drone company and Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Also the Kruger National Park – the largest South African wildlife reserve has been testing surveillance drones to stop people from illegally slaughtering rhinos and elephants. Last year the park has intensified actions and partnered with several organisation to introduce a program called Air Shepherd that aimed to deploy UVAs to popular poaching areas. Last year the project had run an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Although the program didn’t reach its final goal of $0.5m, it raised $325,818 from people all around the world.

The tests showed that the program can be a large success. Not only drones have recorded poachers in the act, but also it prevents poachers from going to a particular areas. Because individuals including park rangers, staff, and villagers are aware of when the drones fly, the network of individuals who may tip poachers will tell them to avoid the area.

Drone Africa - GeoawesomenessIn March 2016 another 12-months long pilot started as a part if the Air Shepherd project where South African drone company UVA and Drone Solutions will be evaluating the effectiveness of drones in the fight against wildlife crime.

One thing is sure: drones have proved useful in anti-poaching activities. Still there are some significant limitations that make the technology staying in “the pilot phase” for couple of years. On one hand the technology is still expensive, requires skilled operators as well as effective coordination with the ground forces. On the other hand local unstable governments fear that drones might be misused which have led to bans in certain areas. In 2015 Kenya and Namibia banned the use of drones over national parks.

Drone technology is likely to play a significant role in the fight against wildlife crime in Africa. But it will be effective only as part of an integrated, ground-to-air tracking and surveillance system.

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