Government Using Drones To Track Down Dangerous Pigs


The Agriculture Department is looking for ways to keep tabs on feral swine.

The federal government wants a high-tech strategy for tracking down what it describes as a “dangerous, destructive, invasive species” wreaking havoc on the nation's crops, pets and outdoor historical sites: wild pigs.

Often feral swine, also known as wild boars or razorbacks, have escaped or been released from farms and now live in the wild. They root up dirt in people's gardens and crop fields, and can spread parasites to humans and their pets, according to the Agriculture Department. 

One of USDA's biggest challenges in managing feral swine infestations is identifying exactly where the creatures are. Once the department establishes a pig's location, the department can dispatch wildlife service personnel to the area. To identify exactly where the pigs are, USDA is looking for drones that can conduct thermal imaging, highlighting the electromagnetic radiation emitted by living organisms and clearly marking swine infestations. 

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

Chinese drone company DJI has automated systems that do just that, according to USDA, which is looking for drone products that are "brand name or equal." The software underlying those drones can be used off the shelf, and won't require USDA to extensively train its personnel to use it when searching for swine. 

An effective system would work with DJI's Matrice 200 platform, and allow for 30 minutes of flight, a separate set of controllers for training, and would include a mechanism for avoiding objects obstructing the drone's path. 

Despite USDA's apparent preference for the DJI platform, the Defense Department has directed employees to stop using the company's drones, citing "increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products," a memo obtained by Defense One said. 

USDA is already testing these systems and has set aside about $25 million this year to catch feral swine in swamps and forests, Reuters reported. This isn't the first time anyone's tried to use drones to track down these pigs; Ars Technica reported on a couple of electrical engineers who whipped up their own pig-scanning thermal-imaging equipped drone in Louisiana as early as 2013.

Nextgov has requested more detail from USDA.