Drone Ecology – sharing the science of drones

Today Jakob and I joined Tom Wade, head of the Airborne GeoSciences Facility to teach about drone ecology (or should it be “dronecology”) – the science of using drones to test ecological questions – in Caroline Nichol’s Current Issues course.

Jakob describes how to pilot a multicopter drone.

Tom gave a lecture on the platforms that can be used for airborne GeoSciences including planes and drones (manned and unmanned systems) of different sizes and the data that they can collect.  Then Jakob and I gave a lecture on the developing field of drone ecology and what ecological research questions drones can help answer with a focus on our Arctic drone research on what is driving the observed tundra greening patterns.

Then after watching a couple of drone videos of Shrubcopter in action and fixed-wing drones being flown in Greenland to understand plant phenogy, drones finding chimpanzee nests in African forests (Check out Conservation Drones for more info), we had a brainstorm and pitch session for the best drone ecology research ideas.

The winning ideas were:

Best Scientific Question – Understanding movement patterns of the elephant shrew in relation to predation under the grass canopy using aerial heat-sensing photography or video (RATS project).

Best Conservation Project – Using fixed-wing drones to monitor deforestation using slash and burn techniques and measuring the impacts of this biomass burning on black carbon emissions (“Who Are We?” project).

Best Use of Novel Drone Technology – The amphibious drone for collecting above- and below-the-water-surface imagery of coral reefs to estimate productivity changes over time (Coral Conservation project). – With an additional shout out to the StarFish project that had designed an aquatic drone to pierce invasive starfish as a form of invasive species management!

Then we got to explore the flying of drones using flight simulators, to see how the research drones work in person and to test out flying a toy-size drone for ourselves.

Flying a drone on a flight simulator!

I think students and lecturers alike got enthused by both the fun and scientific potential for the emerging field of drone ecology!

By Isla

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