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Spoor uses AI to save birds from wind turbines

Wind is the largest source of renewable energy in the US, according to US Energy Information Administration, but wind farms have an environmental cost because wind turbines can wreak havoc on bird populations. Meet Spoor, a startup that uses AI to help wind farms mitigate that risk.

Spoor is software that uses machine learning to detect birds on video, while also recording their movements and predicting their flight patterns. Spoor co-founder and CEO Ask Helseth told TechCrunch that government regulations in several countries require wind farms to monitor and track their impacts on birds, especially in areas with endangered species, but before AI-powered computer vision, there wasn’t a good way for that.

«Regulator expectations are rising, but the industry doesn’t have a good tool,» Helseth said. «A lot of people (go) into the field with binoculars and trained dogs to find out how many birds collide with the turbines.»

Spoor’s continuous site monitoring system offers a big improvement, Helseth said. Existing wind farms can use the data to better respond to bird migration patterns and can slow down or even stop wind turbines when bird activity is expected to increase. Companies can also use the technology to monitor potential wind farm sites and assess their risk to local bird populations.

«Wind farms are quite huge, many hundreds of square kilometers, and trying to use computer vision to track the beam is an interesting technological challenge,» Helseth said. “We had to create a scalable technology that could detect birds. It’s kind of a new use of computer vision and our own data pipeline.”

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The Oslo, Norway-based company just raised a $4 million seed round from investors including Futurum Ventures, Nysnø and biodiversity-focused VC Superorganism. The round also included Ørsted Ventures, the venture arm of Ørsted, one of the world’s largest offshore wind companies.

Helseth said they expressed interest from more than 100 investors in the seed round and were very strategic about who they chose to work with. Superorganism was the only company they approached. Kevin Webb, co-founder and CEO of Superorganism, said the company has been following Spoor for some time and is excited about the investment because Spoor fits perfectly with Superorganism’s thesis of supporting companies that help the planet achieve zero emissions without harming nature or biodiversity in the process .

«We saw them very early on and in the time since we’ve known them they’ve started working with the biggest wind developers on the planet,» Webb told TechCrunch. “Ask and his team have been incredibly good at recruiting. We have been genuinely delighted with the progress they have made in building the team.»

The start of Spoor in Norway was a useful factor in the company’s progress as Norway has an advanced wind farm program. In addition, Europe has a higher deployment of wind energy compared to the U.S., Helseth said. But the company has its eye on expanding into the US, which should be a windfall in itself.

The US government has aggressive goal reaching 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, which offers a strong opportunity for companies like Spoor. Any company that wants to set up a wind farm in the US must follow US Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines and make sure their wind farms don’t violate laws like the Endangered Species Act or the Migratory Bird Act. Regulators in the US are particularly strict about the impact of wind turbines on the American bald eagle population. Helseth added that he has seen wind farms delayed or not built at all because of the problems they face with native bird populations.

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Spoor isn’t the only one using AI machine vision to solve problems. Others include Woolnorth Renewables and Robin Radar.

Still, Helseth hopes Spoor can help remove some of those bottlenecks and be a growing, positive factor in moving the industry forward.

«We’re still a small company, let’s say, but we have interest from all over the world, the industry is hungry for our solutions,» Helseth said.

#Spoor #save #birds #wind #turbines

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