Saturday, January 4, 2014

[Tanya] The beginning, the project, the team

Every trip to Kenya (for me) starts with a flurry of planning and coordination among a dozen or more people coming from all over the world, trying to converge on Mpala at more or less the same time. This time it’s a diverse team of scientists from engineering, computer science, and ecology (as well as Princeton students for the tropical ecology course). Our goal (more or less) is to fly drones over zebras and, using our HotSpotter software over video, to track and build models of movement and social interactions; to start a citizen science based project with nature preserves to use tourist photos to track animals and follow their population dynamics; to start a conversation among scientists who study various animals in that habitat to build a proof of concept ecological information system. So here is the team:
  • Dan Rubestein the ecologist (on the project, the course, in life, at Princeton). Main zebra guy. The main reason I ever got into zebras and to Mpala.
  • Chuck Stewart, the computer vision expert from RPI, who took SptripeSpotter to HotSpotter, a program that can identify any striped or spotted animal (yep, that’s Cathy) from photographs. And now will be using that for video from drones. And will be building the image based ecological information system (using the citizen science input from the nature preserves and everything else).
  • Sai Ravela and Co. from MIT, the drone (among other things) expert.
  • Lucas Joppa from Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK. One of the multitude of the things he does is the Technology for Nature project. Combining that, with Microsoft 4Afrika initiative, to do science, conservation and education, is an amazing opportunity.
  • Marco Maggioni, my PhD student, a former participant in the Kenya course 2012, and Clara Machogu, also a student from that course. They are coming back to help with the technical and human aspects of the citizen science project and everything else.

    Also coming are Meg Crofoot (an evolutionary anthropologist who studies movement and decision making in primates) and our postdoc Damien Farine to work on the baboon project. In 2012 Meg put super high resolution GPS collars on a troop of baboons at Mpala and followed them for a month. Now, using everything and dynamic analysis methods we are trying to make sense of those data and answer some deep biological questions about how social animals make decisions.

    Of course, with this many people, everything that can go wrong, will. Equipment shipping, permits, visas, schedules, flights. The biggest impediment to research, turns out, is snow. With the snow storm on the east coast, and Dan and the students, Chuck, Sai an Co, coming from NJ and Boston, we were worried that the whole thing will not happen. I, sitting on the veranda of the Mpala Ranch House (think Hemingway travel descriptions), was concerned that I would have to spend the rest of the trip as a vacation. Or even extend our stay here! But, miraculously, people are actually making it, after the delays.

  • No comments:

    Post a Comment