My friend Kunal did the most metal thing for his PhD. This Southern California boy went to Antarctica to live in a tent for three months. to use drones to count penguins. So Kunal’s an engineer, and one day these ecologists came into the lab, and they were like, “We really want to count penguins. We want to know how many penguins there are, how many penguin couples there are, how many babies there are, when they’re having those babies, and where they’re having those babies. We want to know everything. “
But, Antarctica is kind of trash, and it’s often too windy for the drones to fly, and when it’s not too windy, it’s often so cold that the battery life is only about And you’re at the magnetic south pole, so compasses don’t work. Easy peasy, right? And Kunal’s a friggin genius, so he was like, “Yeah, sure.”
And he built this algorithm that he called P.O.P.C.O.R.N. This algorithm allows scientists to define the area that they want the drones to go in, and then it draws really efficient paths. The paths have enough overlaps so that you can stitch all the pictures that the drone takes into a big penguin panorama.
But not so much overlap that you’re wasting some of your 13 minutes taking pictures that you don’t need. Pretty soon, we’re not just gonna know more about penguins, but about animals at all kinds of hard-to-reach places.