Using drones to conserve wildlife

September 21, 2020

Dr Debbie Saunders will join Dr Maryam Parviz and Professor Tony Weiss in a Spark Festival discussion at 12 noon on 15 October from 12 pm. Crazy Works – Startups have more impact than papers will be a lively discussion about how academic researchers can be better prepared to create startups.

Dr Debbie Saunders tracks wildlife using radio technology and drones. A conservation ecologist at the Australian National University, her research has focused on improving conservation of threatened migratory birds. Now she develops technology solutions to solve research problems.

Debbie recently succeeded in translating her long-term research into a $1 million habitat restoration project. She has also been instrumental in the development of the world’s most advanced radio-tracking drone system for rapidly and remotely locating radio-tagged animals. 

This includes establishing start-up company, Wildlife Drones, building up an expert team and translating a research prototype into viable product that can be used by endangered species managers, invasive species controllers and land managers globally. 

As the recipient of multiple business innovation awards for her creative solutions for challenging research problems, Debbie believes that drones are a highly valuable and flexible tool that provide unprecedented opportunities for new insights into the world’s most complex and fascinating natural ecosystems. She came up with the idea for using drones to track wildlife because she had a research problem she needed to solve.

“I needed to address a research obstacle, and it turned out that others were also having the same problem!” Debbie said. “I was soon approached by people from all over the world who were interested in gaining access to the tech we developed.”

Debbie’s customer base is extensive and spans wildlife researchers, government parks and wildlife, conservation NGOs, zoos, environmental consultants, invasive species managers, also search and rescue organisations and agribusinesses who are looking for tech solutions to manage agriculture and cattle.

As a wildlife researcher facing what turned out to be a common problem, Debbie quickly identified a global market for her technology.

“Despite its strong market potential, our initial research project did not yield the support we were seeking from the university, so I developed networks through the innovation community in Canberra,” said Debbie who eventually achieved success for Wildlfe Drones independently from her academic role.

Some of the challenges Debbie initially faced in establishing her startup were educating herself on how to translate technology ideas into commercial products, finding the right combination of team members who were willing to work for free, and securing mentorship from experienced businesswomen. 

In less than two years since she first secured investment funding, she is now scaling up her business and has expanded her team from 3 volunteers to 13 staff, while continuing to work part-time for the university on a $1m wildlife conservation project she secured based on her PhD research.

Startups have more impact than papers

Dr Debbie Saunders will join Dr Maryam Parviz and Professor Tony Weiss in a Spark Festival discussion at 12 noon on 15 October from 12 pm. Crazy Works – Startups have more impact than papers will be a lively discussion about how academic researchers can be better prepared to create startups.

This event is part of Spark Festival, Australia’s largest event for startups, innovators and entrepreneurs. Register here to gain access to the full livestream, running daily from Oct 12 – 23, and check out the range of STEM related events here

Image courtesy of Dr Debbie Saunders. Guest post by Jackie Randles, Manager Inspiring Australia NSW. https://inspiringnsw.org.au/ 

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2 thoughts on “Fresh opportunities”

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