When we envisioned a WILDLABS Fellowship Programme, our goal was to connect the conservation technology community to tech developers in a way that stretches beyond just funding, allowing for real impact on both sides.
In conservation tech, there are plenty of big, innovative ideas to go around, with hackathons and challenges looming large across the conservation funding landscape as spaces to explore the possibilities of technology. And while the excitement and creative energy surrounding these events can be incredibly valuable for shaping bold, out-of-the-box ideas, it's sometimes difficult for those great ideas to find their footing afterward and be used at scale. And just as importantly, the results of those challenges need the space to connect with others in the conservation tech community, who could build upon those ideas and run with them toward another solution.
To create impactful conservation tech solutions, you need to mix together a unique cocktail of factors: the creativity of the conservation tech community, the practical experiences of people who use these technologies and know them best, access to training and affordable tools that allow conservationists to cut through the hype, and the ongoing support of tech companies who understand that creating impact is a real investment - not just a one-time donation.
"We think of Edge Impulse's tools as having a big role to play with a small footprint."Adam Benzion
When our friends at Edge Impulse approached us about connecting with conservation tech community members who could use their cutting-edge embedded machine learning tools to create something impactful, we knew we'd found people who shared our beliefs in putting technology's power into the hands of conservation tech practicioners. As we built our new WILDLABS Fellowship: On the Edge together, we held onto the idea of matchmaking those who can use technology impactfully with those companies whose tools and support can help that impact reach even further.
We recently shared our conversation with Edge Impulse leaders and team members about the importance of accessibility in conservation tech programmes. At the same time, we chatted about how Edge Impulse's core beliefs in using their technology and influence to benefit the planet go hand-in-hand with our vision of sustainable support in the conservation tech world.
As Edge Impulse co-founder Zach Shelby shared upon their commitment to 1% for the Planet as the first AI company to join that effort, making a positive impact does not have to be separated from creating innovative technologies. "Moving machine learning from the cloud to edge devices already saves huge amounts of energy and has the potential to make whole industries and the electric grid more efficient. This technology is having real impacts on both health and nature conservation in the field. As he emphasized in their announcement post, in addition to financially commiting to conservation and environmental support, Edge Impulse recognizes the potential for their tools themselves to make sustainable impact on the planet. And outside of this Fellowship, they've already made tremendous strides in supporting the conservation tech world, particularly in their involvement with the ElephantEdge tracker, an innovative collar system built using Edge Impulse Studio's ML models, in partnership with Irnas, Smart Parks and Hackster.
When it comes to using Edge Impulse's embedded machine learning tools in conservation, Adam Benzion told us, "It's the right fit for what users need. It's low power, requires few resources, low cost - and that's the whole mark of good conservation technology, especially when users are working with limitations in funding all the time. Nature never gets the funding it needs, nature only gets abused - so whatever people are using in their work has to be low-cost, efficient, and easy to use in remote locations. Positive impact without the negative. So our tools are a perfect match for conservationists. It benefits all of us to know how we can provide them with better technology. And that's why this pairing makes so much sense." Artie Beavis shared a similar thought, saying, "There's no other technology right now that can work within these constraints. We think of Edge Impulse's tools as having a big role to play with a small footprint.”
But in order to play that role in conservation, conservationists need the skills, the confidence, and the support to make the most of technology. As Artie describes it, "This fellowship is one way of giving them the keys to conservation tech." While having the funding to access cutting-edge tools is important, so are ongoing types of support like mentorship from experts. And that support is mutually beneficial. The skills learned by these conservationists will empower them to keep exploring, expanding, and creating new solutions; ultimately, the solutions born from those skills will give back to the conservation tech community as others build upon them. Making technology more accessible has a way of sparking an ongoing cycle of ideas and progress. And likewise, connecting tech companies like Edge Impulse to conservationists in such a personal way, giving them face-to-face engagement with someone who can make the most of their tools, allows developers to understand how the conservation world can put their tools to the best use - and how they can make an even bigger impact in the future with tools that suit those uses and needs. Another positive cycle, and one with huge potential to revolutionize conservation technology. "We see programmes like this Fellowship and our involvement in conservation tech as part of a wider movement," says Adam, "toward tech and conservation working together to create innovation together. We can share the same goals."
"As more conservation experts start working with embedded machine learning, their discoveries and feedback will shape the evolution of the tools ."Daniel Situnayake
"As more conservation experts start working with embedded machine learning, their discoveries and feedback will shape the evolution of the tools and make sure they work even better for the next set of projects," says Daniel Situnayake. And that all-important feedback loop is central to WILDLABS' goals for creating collaborative opportunities between the tech and conservation worlds. "Communities like WILDLABS are especially important since they provide a forum for this process to take place!" In our role throughout the Fellows' time with us, WILDLABS will serve as a place for the discoveries and successes of the Fellows to be showcased to a global community, and for their successes to spread to other conservationists and tech developers alike, continuing that positive loop of sustainable support and engagement.
We hope that the WILDLABS Fellowship: On the Edge will become a great example of how matchmaking tech companies with real conservation tech users to provide uniquely direct, personal support and engagement can lead to bold but effective solutions. Similarly, Edge Impulse sees this Fellowship as an opportunity that will lead to even deeper engagement with conservation, showing that tech and conservation communities can create paths to sustainable support together.
As Adam says, "Our involvement in conservation tech, in climate solutions, in making a positive impact on the environment through funding, mentoring, creating tools these people can really use - that's a long-term commitment for Edge Impulse." Edge Impulse's motivations in this effort come down to one crucial question - if you have the right tools to make a difference, then why wouldn't you? "We want people to know this is a genuine, ongoing effort that really matters to us. And it should matter to anyone with the ability to do their part here and help the planet." Adam emphasizes just how deep this commitment goes by encouraging conservation technology community members from WILDLABS to reach out to them - even outside of the Fellowship - with ideas for collaborations that could lead to meaningful impact through future projects and opportunities. "We really are trying to welcome people in through finding those ways to collaborate and do good together. It's a form of goodwill and the best way we know to give back. We're looking to start something special here and see how far it can go."
If you're inspired to start something special with us and Edge Impulse as a Fellow, make sure to apply for this opportunity by the August 15th deadline. And watch WILDLABS for all future WILDLABS Fellowship: On the Edge updates, as well as other fellowship opportunities!
Want to get in touch with Edge Impulse about future collaborations, or to learn more about opportunities to use their tools? Reach out at [email protected]!