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The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures Feature Bristol Research

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01 January 2009

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The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are a traditional science event for young people broadcast on UK television every Christmas. They have formed part of the Christmas tradition for generations. This year the lectures are held by Christopher Bishop on the topic of 'High-tech Trek: The Quest for the Ultimate Computer'. 

Lecture 5 on 'Digital Intelligence' features Bristol's biometric animal recognition research including a live demo of the system. The ground-breaking vision technology for wildlife monitoring tasks was developed by an interdisciplinary group of computer scientists, physicists and biologists at the University of Bristol.

Tested at Bristol Zoo, the monitoring system is currently deployed to monitor penguin numbers and penguin behaviour on Robben Island, South Africa. The research advances techniques that originated in computer vision and human biometrics in order to help field biology and to better understand and conserve endangered species, in particular, the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus).

Dr Tilo Burghardt, RCUK Fellow in Exabyte Informatics in the Department of Computer Science, developed the system software. He said: "We believe the new technology will enable biologists to identify and monitor large numbers of diverse species cheaply, quickly and automatically."

Peter Barham, Professor of Physics at Bristol University and penguin fanatic, added: "Once achieved, these systems will revolutionise the precision, quantity and quality of population data available to ecologists and conservationists. There will also be an animal welfare benefit since there is no need to expose the animals to the stress of capture, or side-effects of being marked."

The system is discussed in the final Royal Institution Christmas Lecture 2008 broadcasted UK-wide at 7.15pm on Friday, 2nd January 2009.

NEW! The lecture is now available to view on Five's website.

Find out more about the research by visiting the project page

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