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    Anti-poaching robot designed in Victoria’s Gippsland set to save lives in West Africa


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    By Richard Crabtree

    Gippsland is a long way from the jungles of Africa.. But it was in Churchill, a town of less than 5,000 people in eastern Victoria, where an award-winning robot was invented to help save threatened animals targeted by illegal poachers.

    The four-wheeled robot is nicknamed GUS — Ground Unmanned System — and is armed with state-of-the-art cameras, a drone and microphones guided by artificial intelligence to pick up on human sounds.

    The robot is essentially a scout and is not designed to interact with poachers.

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    “It’s an unmanned observation post — so you can leave it anywhere in the world and it will send you warnings about what’s going on there,” Mr Townsend said.

    Military use
    Mr Townsend, who grew up in the Latrobe Valley, developed the idea during time spent overseas as an army captain with the Australian and British armies.

    “When I was in East Timor we did clearing patrols … and I started to think maybe we could do that remotely without having to have us go out and do that,” he said.

    “The status quo is soldiers and rangers are killed all the time just trying to do their job.

    “The purpose of GUS is for the first point of contact to be between the enemy and a robot — not the enemy and one of our guys.”

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    GUS is also uniquely qualified for tackling rough environments and harsh conditions.

    Mr Townsend said GUS required just 10 litres of petrol to remain in a location for a month — a significant difference from a patrol team needing food, water and rest.

    Anti-poaching robot designed in Victoria's Gippsland set to save lives in West Africa

    Helping GUS come to life
    Mr Townsend took his idea to Churchill’s Federation University, where Gayan Kahandawa, a senior lecturer in the mechatronics department, helped bring GUS to life.

    “With the AI Techniques, we can train it to recognise vision or sounds as humans … with very high accuracy,” Dr Kahandawa said.

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    The robot recently won an award for innovation at an international defence exhibition in Brisbane — and the Australian Army is also interested in what GUS can do.

    “They think this is going to be lifesaving for the army,” Dr Kahadawa said.

    “It’s a pretty good feeling for us, actually, to have recognition from defence and African Parks.”

    PhD student Hasitha Hewawasam also helped with coding and software development on GUS while completing his studies.

    “There are some AI parts that we have in GUS which helps detect certain things — I’m not sure we can talk about it yet — but it’s pretty high-tech stuff,” he said.

    “When we started building it, we never thought we’d win these awards and all these things.

    “Now, it will help save lives, which is really great.”

    Robot could be a ‘lifesaver’
    Future models of GUS will be armed with bulletproof armour, but it’s also made to be cheap and expendable in case it falls into enemy hands.

    Developers hope an upgraded model of GUS could be deployed to its first mission in Benin by March, 2023.

    Mr Townsend said the robot could be a lifesaver.

    “What made this feel more urgent is what’s happening in West Africa — there were rangers being killed lying in fixed positions waiting to detect poachers, soldiers being killed waiting to detect Al Qaeda militants coming over borders,” he said.

    “This robot gives them that early warning — it’s alerting them to what is about to happen.”

    ABC Gippsland . You can read original story HERE

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