Faculty participants in GeoTEd-UAS Institutes continue to receive mentoring and support for sUAS projects

In 2020, Veronica Spradlin of Blacksburg High School and Kevin Hamed of Virginia Tech will produce an educator’s guide for using sUAS in natural resource education. The guide, Exploring our Natural World with sUAS, will help K-12 teachers to incorporate small unmanned aircraft sytems into the classroom.

Chapters will focus on sUAS safety and regulations and the basics of drone flight. The guide will also offer exercises and class projects related to natural resources and climate change.

Spradlin and Hamed’s work will culminate in a one-day hands-on workshop for educators on how to use the guide as a resource in summer 2020.

Tamara Lasley, assistant professor of Information Systems Technology at Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC), plans to work with VHCC science and horticulture students to test a M6E-1 spray and fogging drone for potential use with the U.S. Forestry Service Gypsy Moth Project. Results of the demonstration may indicate potential uses for sUAS in the dispersal of gypsy moth pheromones.

Peter Berquist, assistant professor of geology at Thomas Nelson Community College, Williamsburg campus, will attend a one-day course during the Geological Society of America annual conference. The short course, Introduction to Drones (sUAS) in the Geosciences, will cover basic sUAS topics in addition to orthomosaic and structure-from-motion (SfM) techniques.

GeoTEd-UAS 2019 Spring Mini-Institute

VCU Rice Rivers Center.

The GeoTEd-UAS 2019 Spring Faculty UAS Mini-Institute was held May 21 – 23 at Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Rice Rivers Center in Charles City. Eleven faculty from six different colleges, one high school teacher and six instructors came together for hands-on training in using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Virginia colleges represented at the event included Thomas Nelson Community College, Tidewater Community College, Mountain Empire Community College, Virginia Tech, Blue Ridge Community College, Virginia Highlands Community College, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, Germanna Community College, Southwest Virginia Community College and John Tyler Community College.

The GeoTEd-UAS team and faculty worked with VCU scientists and researchers interested in acquiring aerial imagery and data on the Rice Rivers Center property. A special focus for most of these UAS missions was on a ‘reclaimed’ tidal wetland associated with several different research projects.

The imagery collection efforts will be used to support VCU research designed to assess the ecological succession (changes in vegetation, etc. over time) in the tidal wetland. Researchers wanted to acquire high quality baseline imagery of the wetland so that they can compare imagery captured in the future.  In addition, they were interested in determining different types of vegetation that currently grows in this area and proof of concept for using UAS to identify the shoreline.

VCU Center staff were also concerned about the status of solar panels located at the research boat dock. Faculty used a thermal sensor (see photograph) mounted onto a quadcopter to determine that at least three solar cells were not functioning properly.

By leveraging a research vessel operated by a Thomas Nelson Community College faculty participant, the cohort also demonstrated a proof of concept using side-scan sonar to detect subaquatic vegetation. Faculty participants planned and operated the missions with guidance and support from the project leadership team.

The GeoTEd-UAS faculty cohort planned and completed more than 20 different missions collecting thousands of images and video from UAS and the side-scan sonar. The faculty processed the imagery using UAS software and generated a number of products including orthomosaic basemaps at both high and low tides, plant health maps, elevation maps, and other products.

The images and a preliminary analysis were presented to the VCU Center Director and staff. All images and products will be delivered to the Center Director for further analysis and to help inform future planning and decisions.

Since GeoTEd-UAS began, nine colleges are now offering UMS courses and 320 students have enrolled in UMS courses. Three Career Studies Certificates and one Associates Degree have been created.

Blue Ridge Discovery Center Explorer Feature

drones and biology

The fall edition of the Blue Ridge Discovery Center Explorer features Dr. Hamed and his Biology students work with Unmanned Aircraft Systems to monitor Golden-Winged Warbler habitat. The full text is below.

During the last week in September, Blue Ridge Discovery Center teamed up with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers, AmeriCorps NCCC, the Quarter Way Inn, and the US Forest Service to maintain and enhance golden-winged warble habitat along the Appalachian Trail in northern Smyth County.

The ecologically valuable tract of old field and shrubby habitat that is currently found throughout the tract is in various stages of succession. If allowed to progress through succession, much of the area will revert back to forest and the diversity of wildlife that is found within the tract will decline.

Habitat loss through natural and unnatural means is thought to be one of the leading causes of the drastic decline in golden-winged warbler populations across their range, so maintaining known breeding habitat is critical for the species.

While the warblers are headed to Central and South America for the winter, this yearly maintenance of strategic brush hogging and non-native invasive plant control can safely be completed to maintain the correct ratio of structure across the tract. Not all of the work was done with machinery, AmeriCorps NCCC crew members and a few folds from Celanese Corporation provided much of the enthusiasm and energy to tackle the invasive plants across patches of the tract.