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Bear face recognition technology tested in Japan to flush out 'troublemaking' animals

A brown bear is seen in this photo taken by an automatic camera in Shibetsu, Hokkaido, on July 18, 2020. (Photo courtesy of nonprofit organization South Shiretoko Brown Bear Information Center)

SHIBETSU, Hokkaido -- The first experiment in Japan to recognize individual brown bears using artificial intelligence (AI) is underway in this town in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.

    The technology is expected to help protect and manage wild bears and promote their harmonious coexistence with humans by allowing users to identify "troublemakers" that repeatedly appear in downtown areas.

    In Canada and the United States, university researchers launched a "BearID Project" about three years ago to recognize individual grizzly bears using AI to grasp their populations in national parks. As the distance between a bear's eyes and nose varies from one bear to another, it is apparently possible to identify individual bears with AI if at least 30 photos of their faces are taken from the front.

    The South Shiretoko Brown Bear Information Center, a nonprofit organization based in Shibetsu, is taking photos and accumulating data by installing automatic cameras at two locations on animal trails that brown bears use, and is accumulating data. However, taking photos from the front has proven unexpectedly difficult, and the organization has succeeded in taking only about 20 photos that can be used to recognize the bears' faces. Nonetheless, they were still able to identify four individual bears.

    In cooperation with industrial partners, the government, academia and the private sector, the organization started the "brown bear ADPS project" in 2009 to monitor positioning information by fitting captured bears with collars embedded with GPS-equipped cellphones.

    Though the project has remained at a standstill over the past several years, the organization's director, Yasushi Fujimoto, commented, "If used in tandem with AI facial recognition, exterminating only individual bears that caused trouble would not be impossible." He added, "We hope these kinds of efforts will spread across Hokkaido, because male bears have a wide range of movement, but we need to accumulate photo data and compile a database first."

    (Japanese original by Hiroaki Honma, Hokkaido News Department)

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