Northrop Grumman Corporation engineers and San Diego Zoo Global scientists are joining forces to gain a better understanding of the Arctic environment and the increasing threats to polar bears. New collaboration aims to answer critical questions about polar bear arctic survival using innovative autonomous technology.

Employee teams competing in Northrop Grumman’s Wildlife Challenge are developing new approaches to autonomous flight technology, which San Diego Zoo Global scientists intend to use to expand their observation of climate change impacts to polar bear populations and sea ice habitats in far-off locations.

The Wildlife Challenge is a competition for employees to develop a long-endurance autonomous system to help mitigate many of the challenges of operating in the Arctic, with the goal of providing San Diego Zoo Global researchers with new tools to answer critical research questions.


Teams from across Northrop Grumman have been developing and testing their design solutions since August in preparation for the final test flights this week. Collecting data in remote areas of the Artic is challenging due to the terrain and distant latitudes of wild polar populations – conservation experts think technology can help.

The scheduled test flights took place at an offsite location, 27th-28th of October 2016. Teams displayed their autonomous system’s endurance, payload capacity and low acoustic signature, and validated their ability to operate a full mission package in an Arctic environment.

The Northrop Grumman team who builds an autonomous system that best meets the needs of the San Diego Zoo Global researchers will join them in the Arctic for further research and collaboration.