Using AI to help save the reefs

Today, April 22, 2020, is Earth Day. Accenture, Intel and the Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation announced Project: CORaiL, an artificial intelligence (AI) – powered solution to monitor, characterize and analyze coral reef resilience. Since May 2019, it’s been deployed to the reef surrounding Pangatalan Island, Philipines. Researchers have been using the 40,000 images collected to study the effects of climate change in the area. 

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, coral reefs protect coastlines from tropical storms, provide food and income for 1 billion people, and generate $9.6 billion in tourism and recreation. Due to overfishing, bottom trawling, warming temperatures and unsustainable coastal development, coral reefs are endangered. Global climate change is also a threat to the coral reef ecosystem. Monitoring coral reefs around the world for the effects of ocean acidification, or changing pH in seawater, will become increasingly important for climate change researchers. 


Restoring and supplementing existing degraded reefs is critical to the survivals of many species that depend on the coral reef ecosystem.

Rose Schooler, Intel corporate vice president in the Sales and Marketing Group says, “Project: CORaiL is an incredible example of how AI and edge technology can be used to assist researchers with monitoring and restoring the coral reef. We are very proud to partner with Accenture and the SulubaaÏ Environmental Foundation on this important effort to protect our planet.”  

Using AI to Solve The Problem of Data Collection

Traditional coral reef monitoring efforts involve human divers either directly collecting data underwater or manually capturing video footage and photos of the reef to be analyzed later. These methods are widely trusted and employed. But there are several disadvantages. Divers can interfere with wildlife behavior and thus unintentionally alter research results. Divers can only stay in water for 30 minutes at a time to take photos.


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Using Accenture Applied Intelligence Video Analytics Services Platform (VASP), 40,000 images can be collected in real-time with minimal effects on wildlife, giving researchers an unparalleled view into all aspects of the coral reef’s health.

Patrick Dorsey, Vice President of Product Marketing, Programmable Solutions Group, Intel, says, “VASP uses AI to count and classify the marine life, with the data then sent to a surface dashboard, where it provides analytics and trends to researchers in real-time, enabling them to make data-driven decisions to protect the coral reef.”

Edge AI as an Empowering Solution for Field Researchers

The best use of AI is when AI can be an added contributor to how people perform their work rather than a backstop for automation. Engineers from Accenture, Sulubaaï and Intel combined their expertise in the Project CORail to restore and supplement the existing degraded reef in the Philippines. They built a Sulu-Reef Prosthesis, a concrete underwater platform designed by Sulubaaï to provide strong support for unstable coral fragments. Then, they strategically placed intelligent underwater video cameras, equipped with the Accenture Applied Intelligence Video Analytics Services Platform (VASP) to detect and photograph fish as they pass.

CORaiL device

Jason Mitchell, a managing director in Accenture’s Communications, Media & Technology practice and the company’s client lead for Intel, says, “For Project: CORaiL, AI is empowering our engineers to achieve more and learn faster when it comes to growing the coral reef. It empowers the solution to gather data in a non-intrusive manner, allowing the scientists and data engineers to gather data from the reef with minimal disruption to this fragile ecology.”

It’s still early days for Project: CORail. The next-gen Project: CORail Prototype, will include more sophisticated components. Jason continues, “We are scaling our work in this region with a next-gen Project: CORaiL prototype, which will include an optimized convolutional neural network and a backup power supply. We are also looking into infrared cameras which will enable videos at night to create a complete picture of the coral ecosystem. We could also scale the technology in the future to study the migration rate of tropical fish to colder countries and monitoring intrusion in protected or restricted underwater areas.”

The Future of Field Research In Other Industries

This project not only holds great promise for researchers studying the coral reefs, the technologies behind it, Accenture’s VASP powered by Intel® Xeon® processorsIntel® FPGA Programmable Acceleration Cards, an Intel® Movidius™ VPU and the Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ toolkit, can potentially be used in other industries where field research is an important part of solving real-time problems. 

Edge AI is enabling analytics of data so we can infer things about the real world.

For instance, in agriculture, monitoring and tracking crop health is an important part of management; in wildlife preservation, detecting poachers before they can harm endangered animals and tracking deforestation are central to preserving species.

Patrick Dorsey, Vice President of Product Marketing, Programmable Solutions Group, Intel says, “Project: CORaiL is a great example of how edge computing can augment researchers by having an always-on solution to capture data about the coral reef and marine life. Edge analytics allow researchers, doctors, farmers, retailers, and others to understand and act upon large amounts of visual and other unstructured data quickly instead of having to manually interpret and identify trends.”

This article was originally published here

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