TrailGuard AI is a revolutionary next-generation cellular trail camera that will help protect against human-wildlife conflict and illegal activities like poaching and logging. Created by the environmental organization RESOLVE and software developer CVEDIA, TrailGuard is a very small camera embedded with a processing chip that automatically detects and alerts managers to people, vehicles, and wildlife.

TrailGuard's small size allows it to be easily hidden from poachers or vandals. Image courtesy RESOLVE/Intel.

The TrailGuard revolutionizes trail cameras in several ways. Firstly, its on-board artificial intelligence can be trained to recognize people, vehicles like logging trucks, and specific wildlife species without an internet connection. When triggered, the AI system captures four images, which are analyzed and stored on the SD card. Images containing positively identified people, vehicles, or wildlife will be sent as an alert in near-real-time to a designated cell phone or computer via 2G mobile networks or as a radio signal. While 75% of images from standard trail cameras are false triggers, the TrailGuard AI is able to filter out irrelevant images, eliminating false alarms and extending battery life.

Intel processors power the TrailGuard's AI system. Photo courtesy RESOLVE.

RESOLVE and CVEDIA are now working to train the AI to detect intruders in uniforms, to identify the weapons they carry, and even re-identify suspects for use in prosecution. The more information, the better – detailed intel can help save rangers’ lives, as they can better prepare when intercepting criminals. Advance warning technology like TrailGuard can help prevent tragedies such as the April 2020 attack in Virunga National Park, DRC, where 13 rangers were killed in an ambush.

The second benefit of TrailGuard is that it is incredibly small – the head of the camera, along with the passive infrared sensor, is only about the size of a person’s index finger. It is attached by a cable to the battery box and communications unit. That way, when the camera head is mounted and surrounded with a little bit of bark or elephant dung, it becomes virtually invisible. The battery box can then be completely hidden, and the cable is designed to look like a vine. To assist even further in its concealment, the camera has a narrower field of view and faster wake-up time than traditional trail cameras, allowing it to be mounted farther away (3-5m) from the trail that is being monitored.

The incredibly small TrailGuard AI is only 13.7 x 1.3 x 1 centimeters. On the right are three units, one of which is camouflaged. Courtesy RESOLVE.

Further, with its military-grade AI, TrailGuard can accurately detect humans regardless of the angle of the sensor to the trail. This means that  cameras can be placed high in a tree, or even directly over a trail, enhancing concealment (and connectivity). Keeping trail cameras well-hidden is crucial for preventing criminals from avoiding them, as well as protecting the cameras from vandals or thieves.

Thirdly, the TrailGuard can operate for 1.5 years on a single rechargeable battery, rather than two months like most other trail cameras. This avoids calling attention to the location of the camera trap when managers have to change batteries, and reduces the amount of time needed for camera maintenance.

In the Himalaya, TrailGuard is currently being used with a species recognition AI, called WildEyes AI, to detect snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, and brown bears that prey on livestock. When one of these predators is detected, speakers and strobe lights can be triggered to frighten them off before they can kill livestock or endanger villagers. These systems not only protect the livelihoods of Himalayan communities, but also protect these threatened predators from retaliation. 

WildEyes is also guarding communities in Thailand from elephants, which enter villages to raid crops and can occasionally kill villagers. The elephants are often killed in retaliation. Human-elephant conflict is common wherever elephants occur; they cause over US$10 million in crop and property damage each year in Sri Lanka, and damaged $600,000 worth of crops in Tanzania in 2019. TrailGuard could potentially replace more expensive and time-consuming methods that are being used currently, like building fences or radio-collaring animals.

Once commercially available, TrailGuard with WildEyes AI will start at $450 but will eventually become cheaper.