by Anne Savage, Ph.D., Conservation Director, Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment
Guests are getting a bird’s-eye view – quite literally – of the nesting habits of purple martins at the Walt Disney World Resort, thanks to the talents of Disney’s Emerging Technologies team, Microsoft and Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment (ASE).
Earlier this year, in an effort to learn more about the migratory birds’ behavior, Microsoft and the Emerging Technologies team helped ASE create the “purple martin house of tomorrow” by setting up tiny cameras and sensor arrays to record what happens on the porch and in the nest of a purple martin house.
“The porch and in-nest cameras delivered amazing high-definition footage of our purple martins as the chicks grew up under the care of their parents,” said Dr. Jason Fischer, Conservation Programs manager. “The environmental sensors recorded temperature, humidity, and air pressure throughout the nesting season, and a visitation sensor recorded each time a parent entered or left the purple martin house.”
The cameras have given tremendous insight into the purple martins’ world – the birds incubating their eggs, eggs hatching, birds feeding their chicks and other important milestones during the birds’ nesting season. Microsoft and the Emerging Technologies team have made it much easier for the animal care team to sort through all this data by using artificial intelligence known as computer vision, to “learn” specific birds and their behaviors in order to tag videos with identifiers like “eggs,” “feeding,” “hatching” and “chicks.” This saved enormous amounts of researchers’ time because they didn’t have to comb through hours upon hours of footage. They could connect to Microsoft’s cloud and download one-minute video files of the behaviors they wanted to see.
The Emerging Technologies team and Microsoft also worked together to develop two iPad applications that cast members used to engage guests in the fascinating stories of purple martins.
“A core motivation for this project has been expanding our ability to tell the story of purple martins and their conservation to our guests,” Jason said. “Currently, there are limited opportunities for guests to see a nest check in action. The technologies we have been testing have the potential to allow so many more people to see purple martins, be inspired by what they’ve seen, and get ready to join us in helping to conserve these amazing birds.”
The teams have been delighted with the results and are already thinking about ways they can improve the data-gathering process next season. In the future, they could track individual birds, measuring how much they feed their chicks and how they prepare for their 3,000-mile migration journey from the Walt Disney World Resort to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.
Jason said, “The big next step will be to deploy these smart houses on multiple nest compartments to learn more about how purple martins care for their families. ”