Scientists use smart sensors to monitor bat population in an urban environment

Cities are crowded with residents, but not just people. You might not notice through your daily work, but your area is full of smaller life forms. Bats love living in urban environments, but scientists find it difficult to research them. Now scientists from UCL will monitor bats in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London using new, automated smart detectors.

Bats live in urban environments, usually in parks. But are rather hard to research. Image credit: Steve Bourne via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Although protecting bats is a good idea, this is not done just for the sake of protecting these flying mammals. Bats are good indication of how other species are doing in a particular environment. These smart sensors will detect ultrasonic calls and will allow tracking activity of bats. Each of these devices will actually apply machine learning algorithms, because of the immense amount of acoustic data that they have to process. These smart detectors were installed as soon as bats came out of hibernation. In total there are 15 detectors in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, each equipped with Wi-Fi connection and power supply.

These detectors will provide scientists with real-time information about bat activity, which is crucial in our preservation efforts. Each monitor captures sound using an ultrasonic microphone, which records audio in its surroundings up to frequencies of 96kHz. Audio is then transformed into a spectrogram, but in the process a part of irrelevant data is deleted, reducing amount of work that scientists need to do. It is quite clever system, covering a large area and, therefore, a big population of bats.

These sensors are called smart for a reason. Scientists from UCL and the University of Warwick developed these learning algorithms so that researchers would not have to go through such a big pool of data when they want to analyse one particular bat community. This works very well, because algorithm can distinguish bat sounds, which they make for echolocation and communication,  are higher frequency than suroundings. Professor Kate Jones, leader of the project, said: “It’s a ‘Shazam’ for bats! It’s a huge step forward for detection technology – an Internet of Wild Things, and we hope it will help understand how wildlife is being impacted by rapid environmental change”.

Obviously, living in urban environment is not ideal for bats or other animals. However, they adapt to it very well and managed to survive and thrive. It is important to monitor them to see how changes in the environment, such as growing city population, new development projects, warming climate and so one, impact these animals. Now that they live in our surroundings we have to accept them and take care of them. Furthermore, they are an important part of ecosystem, reducing the amount of insects in parks. Hopefully, scientists will find ways to protect them using this technology.


Source: UCL

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