Research Spotlight: Five questions with ECE graduate student Cheng Guo

How do you spot leopards in the wild?

Casual portrait of Cheng Guo taken in a skyscraper overlooking a city skyline
Cheng Guo, Ph.D. student in computer engineering

We asked Cheng Guo, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Colorado State University, to tell us about her research to monitor and identify these elusive African cats.

Guo is pursuing her Ph.D. in computer engineering. She is co-advised by Professors Tony Maciejewski and Agnieszka Miguel, head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at Seattle University. Their research has been supported by Panthera Corporation — an organization devoted to the conservation of the world’s 40 species of wild cats and the vast ecosystems they inhabit. Panthera contributed its time, expertise, and access to images.

Q: Tell us about your research project. What is the main goal of your work?

A: My research focuses on monitoring and identifying individual wild African leopards, which are seldom seen and difficult to observe. As humans, we have biometric signatures to distinguish us from others, like fingerprints and facial features. Similarly, leopards have unique spot patterns. Biologists are interested in using these distinguishing patterns to study the leopard population and distribution in their habitat.

Unfortunately, current monitoring methods are tedious and require special expertise. To analyze and classify data, scientists must manually sift through raw images captured by a camera trap – a nonintrusive camera triggered by animal activity. To solve this issue, my research proposes a new algorithm designed to identify how many individual leopards are present in a set of camera trap images, and then automatically label each image with a specific leopard ID. The approach is similar to facial recognition technology but applied to leopards in the wild.

Photo collage showing the flowchart for recognizing individual leopards.
Guo is developing a new algorithm to help scientists track individual wild African leopards. The approach is inspired by facial recognition technology.

Q: Why is this work important?

A: My technique could liberate scientists from the inefficient, labor-intensive work of manually characterizing images, allowing them to focus on research that is more meaningful. On a broader scale, my research will accelerate and improve efforts to study and protect leopards and their habitat.

Q: What do you find most exciting about this project?

A: We’ve created an effective technique with proven results. Now, we aim to make it better – that’s the most exciting part of the engineering process.

Q: What do you like most about being a student at CSU?

A: I’m proud to be a CSU Ram! When I first came here, I was impressed by our beautiful Mountain Campus – and it was interesting to take a Football 101 activity. I love the ECE department and my professors. It seems like there are fun social activities every week, and you can always find opportunities to collaborate with others to solve problems.

Q: If you could give advice to someone who is considering a degree in electrical or computer engineering, what would you tell them?

A: Follow your passion. Engineering is a service to society. We care about making our world a better place. Believe in yourself. You can do it. Sometimes you’ll doubt yourself, but remember our professors support you to succeed. That’s the reason I want to be a professor one day – I want to help others succeed.