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MIT Technology Review

An AI learns to spot tree species, with help from a drone

A consumer-grade drone can take photos of trees from above that are good enough to train a deep-learning algorithm to tell different species apart.

Details: The team behind the project flew drone over a forest in Kyoto, Japan, to take photos and then divided some of them into seven categories: six types of trees and one called “others,” for images that captured bare land or buildings.

Results: After some fiddling, the algorithm (which was on an earth-bound computer) achieved 89 percent accuracy overall.

Why it matters: Forest surveys typically use expensive systems outfitted with lidar or specialized cameras. This commercially available setup could be a cheap way to automate tree surveys, and the algorithm could be retrained to aid in disaster response, check pipelines for leaks, or help with other monitoring efforts that need to quickly cover a large area.