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Ghost An Unmanned Aerial System Designed for Wildlife Conservation

Scotty Matthewman

Project Scope As part of an interdisciplinary class, I worked with a team of other students and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) to solve the problem of dangerous and expensive methods of tranquilizing wild animals for GPS collaring.

How can we use a drone to safely tranquilize large wild animals?

Animal of Interest Scimitar-horned Oryx Oryx dammah

He was

erd of 10,000 oryx s reported in Chad

Global captivity program initiated

First herd of Scimitar Horned Oryx are reintroduced into Chad Oryx population estimated at 6,000 Last herds reported in Chad





Scimitar Horned Oryx declared “Extinct in the wild� 2000


Current Method

Safety COST Accuracy The current method is the leading cause of death for biologists in the field

Animal is stressed and terrified

Helicopter rental costs $600 - $900/hr

Properly tranquilizes target only 45% of the time

Veterinarian leans out of helicopter to shoot dart out of rifle

Helicopter is 5-10m above the gound

Ideation Through multiple brainstorms and interviews, our team looked to find the most exciting, yet feasible idea.

Refinement After deciding on a direction, we investigated form language and functional variety. We took inspiration from birds, wasps, and other parts of nature.

Final Concept After careful consideration, our team decided to design an FPV-piloted, fixed-wing micro-drone to deliver the tranqilizer dart on impact.

FPV (First Person View)

The pilot will wear goggles and see, in real time, out of the camera in the front of the drone. FPV will provide more accurate attempts.


Moving away from the traditional “quad-copter� brings down the noise. A quieter drone has a better chance at not spooking the target animals.

Micro-Drone (<12 in. wide)

By minimizing the size of the drone, we are mitigating the amount of force that will impact the animal.

Final Design


Full-Scale Model

Dart with Impact Absorption Needle makes first impact, and impact mechanism minimizes force hitting the animal

First Person View (FPV) Camera Allows for accurate and percisein-flight control; used in racing drones

Forward Sweep Wings Provides more surface area which gives the drone more stability


LOAD Load dart into barrel

Throw to launch


FLY Fly and aim using FPV

Use VHF ping system to retrieve dart and drone after administering the drug

Feedback from people who helped along the way Jared Stabach, Smithsonian Researcher - Mentor

“It’s a really exciting solution that your team has come to. It’s actually funny because it’s pretty close to the idea that my boss had.”

Charlotte Harrison, Big Game Veterinarian - Interviewee “In terms of safety, it’s a winner by a landslide. You are bringing down the stress in the animals exponentially, and that is such an important part of this process.”

James Henderson, Anti-Poaching Enforcement - Interviewee

“It’s a rad idea mate! I can tell you that nobody else in the world is doing it, and if you can get the science down, it would work.”


An Unmanned Aerial System deigned for Wildlife Conservation


An Unmanned Aerial System deigned for Wildlife Conservation