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High-Tech Conservation

Google Glass and World Wildlife Fund team up to save the rhino

An Indian rhino in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.     Photo: Courtesy of Michel Gunther / WWF-Canon

Can Google Glass help save endangered wildlife?  

That’s what World Wildlife Fund was banking on when it partnered with Google’s Giving Through Glass project last October. On Tuesday, the conservation nonprofit and Google released a video demonstrating the new glassware that could be used to streamline fieldwork for rhino researchers in Nepal.

Currently, Nepali rhino researchers scribble hundreds of detailed notes (recording everything from the animal’s age to its markings) with pencil and paper from atop an elephant. By the time they get back to base, that information is illegible and incomplete.  

That’s about to change with Google Glass. The glassware prompts researchers to fill in information about the rhino—all without ever taking their eyes off the animal. Plus, there’s no scrambling to pull out a camera as the subject trots off into the forest. When scientists return to their computers, Google Glass auto downloads notes and photos into a database.  

Like Google Glass, WWF’s Glassware is still in the "exploratory phase." After WWF finishes fieldtesting and gathering feedback from its researchers, it will update the glasses. The technology faces some big challenges along the way—including standing up to the harsh environment where the researchers work—but WWF officials are optimistic.

“Though it’s still highly experimental,” says Shubash Lohani, deputy director of WWF’s Eastern Himalayan Program, “this project has the ability to take fieldwork to another level. It’s big idea thinking in an incredible place with serious conservation needs.”

Google has its sights set on more than just the conservationists, though. Through May 20, the tech company is calling all nonprofits based in the U.S. to share ideas on how Google Glass can help forward their missions. Following the discussion, five nonprofits will be awarded a pair of Glass, a trip to a Google office for training, a $25,000 grant, and access to developers to make their Glass project a reality.

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