The stalk is on.
The wind is perfect.
The predator is smartly approaching the unsuspecting prey.
The weapon of choice? Convenience.
The prey? The Tradition of Hunting.

 

Never before has our storied tradition of hunting rooted in ethics, hard work and balanced conservation been so threatened by such a well-camouflaged foe; emerging technologies.  

 

APPROACHING A TITLE WAVE OF CHANGE
Remember the first generation of smartphones? They looked more like a modern 35mm point-and-shoot camera than the Android or iPhone you probably own today. They were bulky – and buggy at times but they also changed how we interact the world around us forever. We’re at the beginning of a greater innovation wave with emerging technologies and the hunting industry urgently needs to spark a conversation driven by passionate brands, industry influencers, and stewards of our sport. Otherwise, we’ll fall prey to uncontrollable change and subsequently tip the scales towards the hunter like no time in history since the industrial revolution innovation of black powder firearms from bows and spears.

When smartphones erupted into the market, industries pivoted to integrate including a smattering of well-known brands like Facebook, YouTube, AirBnB, Pinterest, Google, Uber, Instagram, and Twitter. Not only did it change brands, it also had a tremendous effect on the job market and economy. An entire ecosystem of supporting brands, content creators, and consumers sprouted up. Our lives have been completely changed forever as a result of smartphones and the brands supporting mobile technologies.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Drones, Mixed Reality (MR), Machine Learning (ML) and Blockchain are a few emerging technologies with underserved markets (like hunting and conservation) poised for massive disruption. The result of not preparing our industry and supporting brands for the approaching title wave of emerging tech change will be a larger gap in the socio-economic divide. It isn’t about drones per se, but the convergence, accessibility and processing ability emerging technologies will have on the world around us. Just like the early smartphones did.

 

DRONES ARE JUST THE BEGINNING
It’s rare nowadays to find a television broadcast or YouTube hunting series without the predictable cut to a drone capturing breathtaking elevated footage. Drones and other technologies on the horizon aren’t going away; large brands like Amazon.com are making sizable investments in drone technology, AI, Machine Learning, and Blockchain. As a result, you can bet hunters, state wildlife, and conservation organizations are going to need to figure out some guidelines and fast.

On the surface, drones seem like such a natural addition to our storytelling toolkit. Sweeping shots help paint a vivid picture for viewers in a compelling way rarely experienced unless you were there in person. No longer do you need to enlist a kid down at the local RC Flying Club either, just about anyone can get a feature-rich drone flying out of the box in 30 minutes using native mobile features or a companion accessory.

Recently, I watched an elk hunting episode by the Raised Hunting crew only to see drone footage immediately after ‘the shot’ and on route to recovery. Another example of drone footage leaning over the line of ethics was on The Outdoor Channel’s Ram Outdoorsman but this time the drone use went further. The drone was launched immediately after the shot and appeared to chase the animal down in order to capture the footage of the animal expiring. In a world now driven by successfully building brands through social and influencer marketing, getting unique content is part of what growing brands do. However, when has driving herds by aerial drones in order to capture cinematic footage been considered ethical – or legal? It feels wrong but in areas where drones are legal, it’s perfectly legal. Should it be?

AI Drone Scouting Fleet (Hypothetical) – Let’s take a look at a hypothetical product if unlimited drone use was allowed and left unchecked. The power of ‘smart’ technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still kinda dumb, relative to where we’ll be in the coming years. That said, a drone scouting tool wouldn’t be difficult to build and basically demystify herd movement in all conditions, day or night, 365 days per year. Surprisingly, most of the technologies are available in the consumer market today and could be stitched together with a few lines of code, an experienced team and made ‘smart’ through AI:

  • 4K video drones – A fleet of pre-programmed drones to scout and scour hundreds of miles of GPS and topo land grids rotating automatically. All data captured and analyzed in the cloud providing real-time alerts to your phone. By the way, private land and ranch owners don’t have flight restrictions either so just about anyone could fly a drone over a private ranch to scout game on that property.
  • 3D Object Identification – We already have image recognition software to compare and identify 3D objects. Programming it to recognize and distinguish antler points and shapes isn’t that difficult. This would allow hunters (or anti-hunters) to ID that elusive 400+” 7x8 bull out of a bachelor group of lesser bulls.
  • Object tracking – Once the 400″ bull is found, drones will follow the identified object from a specific distance or height capturing footage and relevant behavior, feeding habits, where it goes when pressured. You’ll get real-time alerts of any changes, significant movement or changes.
  • Solar – It will take a lot of juice to keep one drone, much less a fleet flying. We’ll build our drones for solar recharging autonomously based on approaching weather patterns to predict forecasted battery burn. For example, on a windy day, the predicted burn of power compared to calm ones will influence flight time. The drones could work in small groups or daisy chain the entire fleet to stick with a specific animal or heard.
  • Smart Software – Seek out to ingest the most recent publically available and disparate data sources like harvest reports tied to historical weather reports to marry the exact weather conditions more closely associated with successful harvest. We’d also pull in GPS waypoints, Google Earth and integrate natural environmental data like recent fires.

Most people would concede, the more we know about the movement of game, their patterns and behaviors, the more we’ll be able to predict it. A tool like this – or others easily assembled would essentially be putting a “where’s my phone app” on any elk, deer, bear, goat providing hunters, poachers or activists real-time knowledge where game is going to be before the game moves there themselves.

 

WILL WE SACRIFICE OUR HUNTING HERITAGE FOR CONVENIENCE?
One of the clear benefactors of technology innovations is convenience. When a product or service is a successful innovation disruptor it also spins up an ecosystem of supporting businesses or competing solutions. Brands like Airbnb, Lyft, Fitbit solved a consumer pain point by making something easier, cheaper, accessible and more convenient. Today, markets exist supporting and competing with each of these brands just like the allowance of drones and other emerging technologies will launch supporting + competing brands and businesses continually pushing the allowed technical limits further.

Look no further than a recent decision by Wyoming Fish and Game putting a halt on scouting data gathered from remote areas via drones and selling the information to hunters seeking trophy class animals. While I support this decision, it’s interesting because selling scouting data has been happening for a long time. In this case, it seemed the convenience provided by drones tipped the ethical scales making it too easy to obtain… for now. There’s an easy case for convenience to be made from individual hunters but surely from guides through reduced cost via dollars saved in gas, time & equipment. Would I like to know if bulls are up in the meadows 5 miles in without climbing all the way in there? Sure, but hunting isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be. It’s easy to identify the benefit of time, effort and dollars saved, but what will become of our sport if we can track game from the comfort of our living room recliner?

When George Shiras captured the first trail camera pictures back in the 1880’s, I’m certain he’d scoff at the innovations to date like networked cameras providing smartphone alerts connected to your Verizon plan. No longer reliant on clever trip wires and flashbulbs, the convenience of trail cameras is difficult to argue; just as the use of drones are to some. It was then – and is today a huge convenience learning what’s walking around on a piece of property instead of spending days, weeks or months in each spot to gather a fraction of the same intel. I suspect George would’ve resisted the notion of phone controlled aerial drones with miniaturized high definition cameras that can be programmed to identify and track a specified object like a trophy herd bull elk.

You might imagine future trail cameras by trusted industry leaders you already know like WildGame Innovations, Reconyx, Moultrie or Browning using AI to turn “dumb” trail camera’s into smart deer recognition cameras powered by software. The result, a hunting tool producing detailed behavioral insights instantly by analyzing the time of day, moon phases, harvest reports, game recognition and even social media scrubs. In one swoop it will de-mystify game patterning and make it much easier to hunt, or just kill. 

The technology behind capturing the Boston Bombers
I recently watched a PBS Frontline documentary showcasing the technologies used to capture Dzhokhar Tsamaev, one of the Boston Bombers. It’s a revealing snapshot into the known technologies being used by law enforcement. Facial recognition, image rebuilding, advanced algorithms synthesizing huge amounts of data to quickly put law enforcement and Homeland Security hot on Dzhokhar’s trail. As the world watched on, Dzhokhars’ silhouette was revealed from the helicopter via a thermal outline through the boat cover.

That infamous video showcased the power of the FLIR camera. It’s a high-end optical camera with incredible thermal resolution through objects. We’ve had thermal imaging in the consumer market for a long time but most models are obstructed by a natural or man-made structure like trees, fabric or any building. Imagine the FLIR technology as a miniaturized consumer product available to put on tracking drones. All of a sudden, the ‘hypothetical’ drone scouting fleet seems less like vaporware, doesn’t it?

If it seems odd or feels like cheating you could increase your chance of success by decreasing time in the woods, it does to me too but it’s true.

 

AI DECOYS
Let’s take a look at another example of the natural progression of technology innovation within existing hunting tools like decoys if left unchecked. In Washington state, we can’t use motorized MOJO wing duck decoys. But are we as hunters OK with those states where it is legal leveraging Artificial Intelligent (AI) decoys?

Imagine a spread of AI MOJO duck decoys with a library of pre-programmed behavioral patterns; swimming, wing drying, diving, sleeping and even calling. AI products already exist in other consumer markets leveraging forms of this technology but thankfully it hasn’t yet made its way into decoy product roadmaps. One well-known product example is in-home vacuum cleaners which clean floors using 3D mapping technology the software creates for each room in your home. The robot vacuum cleaner will get unstuck and understands spacial relationships with other objects; just like robot decoys could with relatively little effort. If you still think this is crazy talk, tell it to Husqvarna, John Deere. Check out the functional testing from Australia’s automating farming coming to your food plot soon.

In other words, your AI duck decoys learn real behavior the more real-life encounters it has with other alive waterfowl. The AI decoys will ingest natural movement, flight patterns, weather, communication and clusters based on real-time intelligent data to mimic realistic game behavior. Add a 360-degree camera and the decoy could now release sounds and even smells via a geofence and how real ducks are interacting with the AI decoys on any given day. In the future, you’ll just place your decoys in the water and they’ll swim into patterns known to be welcoming to ducks based on variable real-time environmental factors and interactions.

Your big game decoy is a likely candidate to tip the scales too. Most states already allow non-motorized big game decoys in some states just like MOJO ducks. Leveraging Artificial Intelligence, your Whitetail decoy will smartly move, deploy estrus scent, scrape, posture and issue different calls all based on synthesizing real-time data, known behavioral traits and how other deer interact with the decoy on the fly.

The reason to create AI decoys may be pure enough, increased hunter success – but at what cost to our tradition of ethical hunting?

 

Robots and Hunting

Robots and Hunting (photo credit: Cyris 3 Wallpaper)

[I’d appreciate hearing from you, Please take 5 minutes to answer 10 questions on technology & hunting.  I’ll share top-level results in a subsequent post related to technology, hunting & conservation ]

ROBOT OUTFITTERS & GUIDES
I get the argument by outfitters, wildlife conservationists, and even hikers that drones are an extension of the mix of scouting and storytelling tools already allowed in the outdoors today. Spotting scopes, phone skopes, DSLR’s, action and trail cameras are legal; why not drones or emerging technologies? I suggest it’s a short-term argument and here’s why at least outfitters and guides might think differently about supporting drones upon further examination.

One of the big benefits I’ve found in using outfitters is the time saved in the knowledge and expertise on areas that might be holding animals or how the local game is behaving. This saves me countless days or weeks I’d need to figure out a piece of state, federal or private land. If AI drones provide private citizens aerial access to remote land programmed to locate and track game, the perceived value of the outfitter or guide decreases significantly. The accessibility and convenience of this information will result in fewer people paying outfitters thereby driving reservations down and unfortunately in the long term, putting some out of business.

The economic ripple of outfitters going out of business if this were to happen, not only threatens outfitters and guides, it would take a bite out of hunting economy as a whole. Fewer trips to our favorite outfitters resulting in reduced travel expenditures which would result in less gear purchased by outdoor brands, less license & raffle revenue and by extension, land options will also decrease.

If I were an outfitter, I’d be steadfast against any technology that reduced long-term value of the experience they share and so many of us treasure. If outfitting businesses begin to fail due to unchecked emerging technology innovations or just reduced accessibility to land, your outfitters of the future might play a similar role to what’s coming in the hotel and hospitality industry – transactional interactions. Quite possibly, the only thing worse than robot outfitters would be Robot Hunters.

 

5 THINGS HUNTING AND CONSERVATION BRANDS CAN BEGIN DOING TODAY 

  1. Don’t get caught underestimating Emerging Technologies potential impact on hunting, fishing & conservation –
    While there are technological hurdles to overcome, the future of emerging technologies related to our hunting, fishing & conservation lies in our hands. The tradition of hunting and maybe the long-term viability of the sport is at stake. Simply sticking our heads in the sand hypothesizing about emerging technologies or their future in our industry is not sufficient.
  1. Understand the long-term threat from emerging technology to hunting won’t come from ethical hunters or even robots – 
    It will come from the same organizations that would prefer to restrict – or make hunting and firearms illegal. Look no further than which major software and technology companies are driving emerging technologies like AI, Machine Learning, drones, autonomous vehicles, Blockchain and big data? Not a single brand I’ve found while researching this article is known to be friendly to the hunting and firearms industries.  Just to name a few; Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Tesla. Does this fact alone put you at ease or concern you those brands won’t be looking out for the hunting, fishing, firearms and conservation industries?

We should all be more concerned about those who prefer to take away our hunting rights away using some of these technologies to disrupt hunters, game or conservation efforts. Imagine if this crowd or what about clowns like this gained access to the hypothetical drone scouting tool I sketched out above instead of the hunting or conservation brands we trust and look out for our best interests?

  1. Leading industry brands should take the lead –
    I’m sure well-known brands many of us already support in some form like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the NRA, and others may already be partnering with state DFW organizations but there’s little mention anywhere online. If there are brands discussing this issue and helping shape protections for our sport, I encourage industry SME’s be included in the dialogue. In fact, one of the only articles I found articulating part of this issue was authored last year by Steven Rinella from his MeatEater website entitled “The Technology Paradox from Meat Eater. It’s worth the read and I applaud Steven and a few others for discussing this complex issue. I hope the discussion continues and progresses.

I’d be equally encouraged to see a panel discussing the balance of emerging technology and hunting at the 2018 Shot Show plus all major outdoor shows across the country. The panel could discuss and review how the horizon of emerging technologies maintains an ethical balance of hunting and modern conservation. Maybe, solicit passionate hunting, fishing & conservation communities for tech-savvy thought leadership (ahem!) to discuss and look out for the best interests and rich traditions our sport should rightfully protect.

  1. Lean into Emerging Technologies –
    It may seem contrary to the spirit of this post but hunting & conservation brands should lean into emerging technologies and discover uses that benefit brand charter causes, safety and our tradition as a whole. There are plenty of good uses for emerging technologies that will bring our sport forward like donor acquisition, firearms safety, educational content and new hunter participation. Aiding in the applicable efforts for state and federal properties include supporting fire crews or search and rescue but there are plenty of other examples of emerging technologies being used as effective tools to DFW, first responders or state organizations to enforce laws.

Drones for example already have been put to good use helping to reduce poaching. Another instance leverages the Internet of Thinkgs (IoT) and yet another, preventing illegal hunting in the Congo. There are plenty of benefits to our industry if we begin leveraging these tools to prevent technology from being ahead of the regulations that protect the future of our sport.

  1. Rationalize the hypocrisy of hunting & fishing technologies –
    Contributing to this issue is the contradiction of similar technologies being allowed in fishing or even within hunting today. One could argue the detail provided on your standard fish sonar; depth, water temp, topology, direction, species identification and school density is less intrusive than the hypothetical drone scouting tool I drafted above. As commonplace as it may seem nowadays with mobile tool breakthroughs like landowner maps and other mobile tools, innovation will continue to barrel forward with – or without participation from our industry.

The next 5-10 years will see some of the most innovative and evolutionary disruptions we have seen thus far in our industry. There will be more technical connections, more business automation, and more significant impacts directly affecting the “business of hunting” than ever before. How we let it influence the rich tradition of hunting and conservation is up to us. The emerging tech and smart software disruption revolution is just kicking into second gear and our industry leaders remain in neutral.

 

THE HERITAGE OF HUNTING AND MODERN DAY CONSERVATION REQUIRES BALANCE 
The hunting tradition dates back centuries, to a time when humans hunted for food to live. Hunting success was tied to the hunter regularly bringing home meat, hide and bone. Today, we hunt for a variety of reasons and realize different benefits from each trip into the woods, property or blind. No matter the style, reason or amount of hunting you do, we share a common goal of protecting the tradition of hunting from encroaching technologies now more than ever.

Modern wildlife management strikes an important balance with conservation; hunters pay for the opportunity to hunt through distributed licenses, draws and raffles ensuring only the excess game is harvested each year. This modern-day system balancing hunting and conservation provides access to wildlife in an era of ever-shrinking availability of habitat to the average hunter.

Human acting AI Robots like seen in the movie iRobot, aren’t expected in the market in our lifetimes but early versions of their predecessors are already here. Again, it’s not about one technology over another but the ability to meaningfully consume desperate data sources making the output understandable and actionable. Let’s come together as hunters, conservationists, anglers and all that love the great outdoors to protect the ethical balance of our sport before emerging technologies silently creeps in for the kill.

Drones are just the beginning.

 

[I’d appreciate hearing from you, Please take 5 minutes to answer 10 questions on technology & hunting.  I’ll share top-level results in a subsequent post related to technology, hunting & conservation ]