Open Source

Energy Department releases code to count bats in the dark

Shutterstock Image 

National laboratory researchers have released an initial version of software that can help energy companies see birds and bats at night and could help energy companies set up offshore energy windmill farms.

The problem of siting wind turbine farms in areas where the turbines' spinning blades don't annihilate local populations of airborne wildlife is a long-standing environmental concern.

Night-flying flocks of birds and masses of bats flit and soar in remote locations offshore and can be difficult to see, said the lab, making siting energy-producing windmills there a life-and-death decision.

The software, developed and made available through GitHub by the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest Laboratory, uses thermal imaging from cameras trained on the site to help find clusters of birds and bats near those potential remote offshore wind farm sites.

Called "ThermalTracker," the software can automatically categorize birds and bats in thermal video. It can help determine how many birds or bats are near an offshore wind project and if they could be affected by the project, allowing developers to modify plans.

The lab said researchers from the non-profit Biodiversity Research Institute are testing the system this summer in Maine to see how well it performs.

Researchers are updating algorithms that allow the software to detect and identify the flying wildlife in real time on video, instead of in after-recording analysis. The new algorithm, it said, will also save video only when birds or bats are spotted, saving on data storage and allowing longer-term observation and analysis.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • Congress
    U.S. Capitol (Photo by M DOGAN / Shutterstock)

    Funding bill clears Congress, heads for president's desk

    The $1.3 trillion spending package passed the House of Representatives on March 22 and the Senate in the early hours of March 23. President Trump is expected to sign the bill, securing government funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018.

  • 2018 Fed 100

    The 2018 Federal 100

    This year's Fed 100 winners show just how much committed and talented individuals can accomplish in federal IT. Read their profiles to learn more!

  • Census
    How tech can save money for 2020 census

    Trump campaign taps census question as a fund-raising tool

    A fundraising email for the Trump-Pence reelection campaign is trying to get supporters behind a controversial change to the census -- asking respondents whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.