Eighteen-year-old MIT freshman, Anika Puri, has a love for animals — especially elephants. Growing up, she frequently traveled with her family to India where she witnessed the ongoing illegal trading of ivory. On these trips, Anika observed that the bustling markets of Bombay were rife with ivory-laden jewelry—for Anika this was a heart-wrenching sight and troubling display. These images triggered her yearning to find a way to protect these vulnerable animals from poaching, leading her to develop a low-cost, AI-driven tool called ElSa. Her technology is comprised of software that uses thermal and infrared videos to detect the movement patterns of elephants and humans. The FLIR ONE Pro thermal camera Anika used in her work is available for just $250 and has a resolution of 206×156 pixels. When paired with an off-the-shelf iPhone 6 and attached to a drone, the camera can capture real-time footage in parks and distinguish movement patterns between elephants and potential poachers on the ground.
As an electrical engineering and computer science double major, Anika continues to be excited about furthering her research by expanding the use of her technology to other wildlife species and working with conservation organizations to implement her software in the field. She is deeply committed to promoting the importance of biodiversity and wildlife conservation, having already presented her work to the U.S. Department of State’s Global Women’s Issues Panel. Her work has also been covered by the World Economic Forum as well as Smithsonian Magazine.
Anika’s ability to communicate her project with eloquence and clarity earned her the Peggy Scripps Award for Science Communication at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in 2022.
Let’s hear more from Anika below.
What was your most memorable experience from ISEF?
My most memorable experience from ISEF this year was seeing the spirit of students from Ukraine who despite being impacted by the war continued to participate and present their hard work. I was in admiration of their resilience because through everything they were going through, through all the hardships they were facing, they were still able to persevere.
What about your experience at ISEF surprised you most?
Coming to Atlanta, I was excited to see so many students from around the world despite so many obstacles with COVID. I believe it truly speaks volumes and exemplifies the “can-do spirit” of the Society for Science and the international student community. I can’t thank Society for Science enough for organizing such an amazing fair, bringing together students from around the world, despite all sorts of unforeseen circumstances.
Which sci-fi advancement do you wish we had by now?
I wish we had a device that enabled us to seamlessly understand the language of animals. Artificial intelligence is making tremendous advances and I hope soon we will be able to communicate with the animal kingdom in their own language just like we do with people across the world in many different human languages.
What would you invent if you had all the resources in the world?
If I had all the resources in the world, I would hope to invent a device that is able to filter out fake social media that is currently blurring the line between facts and disinformation.
What would you like to be most renowned for?
Sustainability is the most challenging problem facing our society. Energy usage patterns in our society are directly linked to the crisis of poverty, wars, pollution, climate crisis and loss of biodiversity. I would love to be known as a scientist who is relentlessly working towards solutions for sustainability, helping to heal our home, Earth.
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