Heathrow Airport trials AI-based screening technology for detecting wildlife trafficking

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Security screening technology manufacturer Smiths Detection has collaborated with IT giant Microsoft and London Heathrow Airport to develop a first of its kind multispecies AI model designed to uncover illegally trafficked wildlife concealed in baggage and air cargo.

Initial testing of the algorithm which took place at Heathrow has shown a success rate of over 70% in identifying trafficked animals, including ivory. As part of Project SEEKER, an extensive library of x-ray images taken from Smiths Detection’s CTX 9800 baggage scanners at Heathrow were used to train the Microsoft AI for Good model. The machines can screen up to 250,000 bags a day, generating a multitude of data for inspection.

Globally, illegal wildlife trafficking is among the five most lucrative global crimes and is often run by highly organized criminal networks. Combatting wildlife trafficking could therefore cut off revenue streams to organized crime and help stop animal poaching. Tackling the issue could also contribute to the reduction of zoonotic diseases (animal to human) which have been recently linked to wildlife trafficking.

Richard Thompson, market director, aviation, Smiths Detection, said, “We’re incredibly pleased with the initial results of this trial, which have been achieved by combining Smiths Detection’s and Microsoft’s technologies to create a usable solution for this very real problem. The trial has demonstrated that using AI-powered technology to automatically uncover threats and contraband significantly reduces operator burden. We’re very much looking forward to strengthening our collaboration with Microsoft further as we work toward our respective ambitions of using AI for good and making the world a safer, better place.”

Daniel Haines, data and artificial intelligence solution specialist at Microsoft, said, “SEEKER is testament to the impact we can make when we work collaboratively across the private and public sector. This tool can be deployed with existing screening and security infrastructure and can empower those working on the frontline of illegal wildlife trafficking to better detect, seize and investigate trafficked items and the criminal network behind them. Following this successful trial, we’re calling for major transport hubs including airports to deploy the technology and put the model to work on regional illegal wildlife trafficked priorities along with NGOs and law enforcement agencies to share intelligence data. Together, we can stop illegal wildlife trafficking in its tracks.”

Jonathan Coen, director of security at Heathrow, said, “Project SEEKER and our partnership with Microsoft and Smiths Detection will help us keep one step ahead of traffickers, by exploring new technology that will help us protect the world’s most precious wildlife.”

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Dan originally joined Passenger Terminal World in 2014 having spent the early years of his career in the recruitment industry. As online editor, he now produces daily content for the website and supports the editor with the publication of each exciting new issue. When he’s not reporting on the latest aviation news, Dan can be found on the golf course or apprehensively planning his next DIY project.

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