Using a unique AI tool, Smiths Detection, Microsoft and London/Heathrow aim to uncover illegally trafficked wildlife concealed in baggage and air cargo.

As part of Project Seeker, an extensive library of X-ray images taken from Smiths Detection’s CTX 9800 baggage scanners at Heathrow were used to train the Microsoft AI for Good model. The machines can screen up to 250,000 bags a day, generating a huge amount of data for inspection.

Initial testing of the algorithm, which also took place at Heathrow, has shown a success rate of over 70% in identifying trafficked animals, including ivory.

Richard Thompson, market director for aviation at Smiths Detection, said: “We’re incredibly pleased with the initial results of this trial, which have been achieved by combining Smiths Detection and Microsoft technologies to create a usable solution for this very real problem. The trial has demonstrated that using AI-powered technology to automatically uncover threats and contraband significantly reduces operator burden.”

Daniel Haines, data and artificial intelligence solution specialist at Microsoft, added: “Seeker is testament to the impact we can make when we work collaboratively across the private and public sector. This tool can be deployed with existing screening and security infrastructure and can empower those working on the frontline of illegal wildlife trafficking to better detect, seize and investigate trafficked items and the criminal network behind them.”

Illegal wildlife trafficking is among the five most lucrative global crimes.