An African forest elephant in a woodland setting in Loango National Park, Gabon. Hes on your farm, eating your crops

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When you think of agricultural pests, elephants are probably near the bottom of the list. But they do an enormous amount of damage to nut and banana plantations precisely because they are too big, tough and smart to scare off once they start eating. Now, Australian researchers have developed an AI scarecrow that can do the job. It has been so successful that they are looking to adapt it to other smart pests the long term goal is a scarecrow that understands the type of pest approaching and can tailor its scaring strategy.

Scarecrow technology has a long history of ignominious failure, and not just for elephants  animals quickly learn to tune out a deterrent if it becomes apparent that there is no threat. Many growers have described birds perching and even roosting on devices that were designed to scare them off. So researchers from CSIRO, Australias national research organization, decided the answer was artificial intelligence.

Their AI scarecrow bears little resemblance to what you may be picturing. It has three elements: sensors that detect what kind of pest is approaching, a processing brain to identify them and decide how best to respond, and deterrent devices that can respond intelligently with the right combination of sound or light. These can be scattered widely to encompass any area that needs protection, even if its the size of a plantation.

Then it is loaded with a library of predator sounds, animal alarm calls and irritating tones, as well as its own self-generated noises anything we would consider as scary or startling, says senior researcher Ashley Tews. What constitutes a scary sound is an ongoing area of species-dependent research. However, previous work indicates that leopard and tiger growls can make elephants depart the scene. Its als...