Microsoft AI for Earth adds Wild Me to $50m project initiative

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Microsoft AI for Earth taps Wild Me as new featured project for $50M initiative

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Professor Tanya Berger-Wolf’s career in research has come a long way (and full-circle) since she secured her first ever funding dollars ($91K grant) from Microsoft Research back in 1996. Ironically, it was on sabbatical in 2013 at Microsoft in Redmond, WA where Tanya met Lucas Joppa, who is currently Microsoft’s chief environ-mental scientist (and AI for Earth Director), and where she initially conceived the idea for Wildbook, an open source software which has rapidly become the world’s leading repository for tracking endangered wildlife.
Microsoft recently recognized the impact and poten-tial of Wildbook’s framework and awarded Wild Me (Wildbook’s non-profit organization) with a featured project for its AI for Earth program. Wild Me will re-ceive resources and support from Microsoft as part of it’s $50 million initiative to put its cloud and AI tools in the hands of those working to solve global environ-mental challenges. There are currently four featured AI for Earth projects at Microsoft.
“That’s the moment I felt like Wild Me and Wildbook were finally growing up!” Berger-Wolf said of hearing the news regarding Microsoft’s funding and support of Wild Me. “An idea that was in our mind five years ago that became the duct taped Wildbook prototype, put together by a few volunteer researchers and engi-neers, was finally going to be a real product usable by thousands of scientists and conservationists through-out the world.”
The Wildbook team’s research started in 2014 with an initial grant from the National Science Foundation. By February 2015 the first Wildbook prototype was launched and was powering the first ever count of ani-mals using photographs from citizen scientists: The Great Zebra and Giraffe Count at Nairobi National Park. Wildbook’s popularity and growth within the conservation community was just getting started.
“There was an intense demand for something that did-n’t yet exist,” Berger-Wolf said, alluding to Wildbook’s rapid success over the past few years with limited re-sources. “It was all happening so fast at the beginning. Research and development were happening at the same time. It takes a great team of talented, dedicated and passionate researchers and engineers.”
The team consists of 4 co-founders, 2 grad students and a 1/2 engineer: Along with Tanya, Chuck Stewart is the computer vision researcher at RPI, his two PhD students Jon Crall and Jason Parham, Dan Rubenstein is the ecologist and zebra expert (and a long term col-laborator) at Princeton U, and Jason Holmberg is a data architect who started whaleshark.org and created the data management layer of Wildbook as a hobby in his spare time. He is now the inaugural Executive Di-rector and Director of Engineering at Wild Me. He also brought in Jon Van Oast, a part-time senior engineer.
With the new funding and support of Microsoft, Wild Me plans to continue the success of Wildbook on a much larger scale by adding three more dedicated engineers and moving onto Microsoft’s Azure plat-form where Wildbook will be included in the Azure Marketplace. And adding many, many more images!
“Microsoft’s partnership allows us to grow to planetary scales, to thousands of species, efficiently, accessibly for scientists and wildlife conservationists, who can use it to study and protect biodiversity of our planet,” said Berger-Wolf.