Japan to test AI-based bear warning system after attacks on humans

Japan is set to test an AI-powered bear-warning system following a record-high number of bear attacks on humans in the past year, attributed to the animals’ difficulty in finding their typical food sources. The trial, taking place in Toyama Prefecture in central Japan, will use artificial intelligence to analyze live feeds from government, municipal, and private security cameras to detect bears in areas close to human habitation.

If a bear is identified, the system will send instant alerts to local authorities, police, and hunters. Additionally, the AI will study the movement patterns of bears to predict where they might be headed in the future.

Should this trial prove successful, Japan plans to implement it in other regions with significant bear populations. The rising frequency of bear attacks and encounters has been attributed to inconsistent food harvests for the bears and a decline in rural populations. The decreasing number of children in rural areas, who are typically noisier and therefore help deter bears, has also been cited as a contributing factor.

The AI bear-warning system isn’t the only experiment underway. In Hanamaki City in Iwate Prefecture in northeast Japan, a similar system is being tested with 30 cameras set up along rivers flowing from the mountains into the city. Bears often use these rivers to travel, so the system sends alerts to a monitoring station and local residents. The city’s approach to preventing bears from entering urban areas focuses on non-lethal deterrents.

The need for these systems is underscored by recent bear incidents. On April 28, a bear attacked a small truck on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, with dramatic dashcam footage capturing a high-speed pursuit. The attack is thought to be linked to a protective mother bear, as a cub had crossed the road shortly before the encounter. The Ussuri brown bears found in Hokkaido are significantly larger than the black bears found elsewhere in Japan, weighing over 300kg and capable of running at speeds of up to 50km/h.

Three days prior to the truck attack, a 50-year-old karate practitioner, Masato Fukuda, managed to fend off two black bears by kicking one of them in the head, showcasing the dangerous interactions between humans and bears that have prompted the development of these AI-based monitoring systems.

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