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Cleaning up New Zealand’s coastlines one bot at a time

Cleaning up New Zealand’s coastlines one bot at a time
New initiative using AI will help establish a New Zealand-first national litter database

New Zealand, 26 October 2018 – Yesterday at Microsoft’s inaugural AI event, Future Now, real-life applications of how AI will help shape New Zealand were brought to life demonstrating that AI is an important driver of new solutions to address some of our biggest societal challenges.

Damon Kelly, Enlighten Designs CEO and Microsoft Partner showcased an exciting new initiative with Sustainable Coastlines aiming to make citizen scientists of us all by arming us with right data and insights to help keep our country clean, green and beautiful.

Kelly said, “We have partnered with Sustainable Coastlines and Microsoft’s Azure platform to develop an AI-powered tool that empowers Kiwis in cleaning up New Zealand’s beaches. The tool is the first of its kind in New Zealand and uses Microsoft’s Cognitive Services, alongside a United Nations Environment Programme methodology, to help communities around the country capture and categorise what litter is on our beaches.”

Working alongside the Ministry for the Environment, Department of Conservation and Statistics New Zealand, data collected from Sustainable Coastlines’ new tool will be used to help establish a New Zealand-first national litter database.

“This will provide valuable insight to communities, right up to government, on the effectiveness of different litter interventions, including educational approaches, so we can collectively work together to best change litter behaviours,” noted Kelly.

Discussing the practical implications of AI, Russell Craig, Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft said, “The tool is a fantastic example of how AI is being used for good – in this case, delivering large-scale, grassroots solutions to our growing litter problem in New Zealand. What’s fantastic is that through AI the initiative is also being harnessed as a powerful education instrument for schools.

Sustainable Coastlines co-founder Camden Howitt explained that through Microsoft’s data visualisation tool, Power BI, data collected from the tool will be presented in an engaging and easy to understand format. “This will help schools, community groups and businesses to view and make sense of the data and trends from a local perspective, empowering them to undertake their own litter-reduction projects in their communities,” said Howitt.

Howitt noted that the first official Citizen Science Monitoring Site for this project has been established, at Waikanae Beach, Gisborne. “With assistance from our new technology tool, this site will be monitored for litter long-term by local community group Plastic Bag Free Tairāwhiti, who will gain a strong local understanding of the litter problem while contributing to the national database,” said Howitt.

With the backing of the Ministry of Education, educators nationwide will be trained to deliver a new curriculum-aligned behaviour change programme that aims to curb single-plastic consumption and reduce litter. Iwi, local and business groups across the country will also be trained on how to use the AI tool in their unique communities.

All data findings will be publicly available through a purpose-built litter database and education hub.

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