GeoTEd-UAS member Fred Coeburn and students in the sUAS (small Unmanned Aircraft Systems) program at Mountain Empire Community College are using drone technology to plant seeds at Rowlett Farm near Jonesville, Virginia.
Students in the course titled “sUAS On-Site Training” are using a special agricultural drone, a DJI Agras MG-1P, to disperse the seeds. The drone has two different farming attachments, a liquid tank with two pumps which can hold 10 liters of liquid used for pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or fertilizers and a spreader hopper which can hold up to 22 pounds of solids.
At Rowlett Farm, students weighed the Tall Fescue seeds, used to thicken the grass coverages and increase next year’s yield, before pouring them into the drone which uses a variable speed rotating disk.
When the Rowlett Farm project is completed, over 60 acres will have been seeded using drone technology.
Mountain Empire Community College offers an Associate in Applied Science degree in sUAS Operations Technical Studies. Learn more about the program here: https://www.mecc.edu/drone/
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.
There is a nice story posted on the TNCC website about the UMS 111 class taught by Geology department head Peter Berquist at TNCC Historic Triangle campus. The story focuses on practical applications of drone usage, The link can be found here.
On Tuesday, the GeoTEd-UAS leadership team flew several UAS missions at the VCU Rice Center to gather data in preparation for the upcoming faculty workshop.
During the workshop, faculty will conduct real UAS missions to support the data collection needs of the Center while expanding their own experience and training in conducting service learning missions. Potential flights for the workshop include an aerial shoreline vegetation mapping, solar panel examination, mapping the entire property, and using side scan sonar from the boat to “image” vegetation to determine vegetation health.
The Virginia Tech GeoTED-UAS Mini Institute will be held May 21-23 at the VCU Rice Center outside of Williamsburg. Workshops in the previous three years have focused on classroom training with basic hands-on learning. This year, the fourth and final session, will be the capstone of GeoTED-UAS. Faculty will gain experience with a series of real-world sUAS operations designed to collect mapping and video data of the wetlands and riverbank habitat on the Rice Center property. The participants will be tasked with all aspects of sUAS missions, from flight planning, to mission execution, and ending with data processing. Throughout the entire process, we will be approaching this course with an eye to the safety application of sUAS technology in all stages of sUAS operation.
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.
Read about Matt Poe’s transition from hobbyist to business owner. Poe received his remote pilot’s license after taking classes at Virginia Highlands Community College. The story from fastforward.com can be found here.
Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) students had a great experience learning how to utilize small Unmanned Aircraft Systems to collect real world data. A partnership with the Blue Ridge Discovery Center, US Forest Service, and VHCC allowed our students to map critical Golden-winged Warbler habitat. Audubon considers this bird to be the most imperiled species in North America that is not currently designated as “threatened” or “endangered.”
Golden-winged Warblers require a unique blend of habitat including grasses, small shrubs, large shrubs, and mature forest. Managers must constantly work to maintain the ideal states of succession that facilitate successful nesting. Aerial imagery collected will be used to measure and assess habitat.
In addition to learning about sUAS operations and autonomous flights, Jay Martin (Blue Ridge Discovery Center) and former USFS wildlife biologist) gave our students an incredible hands-on presentation focusing on habitat management for Golden-winged Warblers.
Today was a great learning experience for our students and an amazing opportunity to help our natural community. I am grateful to Jay Martin and the GeoTEd team members for their assistance and support to help enrich the education of our students.
In partnership with the GeoTEd-UAS project, the College of Natural Resources and Environment and the Virginia Geospatial Extension program at Virginia Tech recently coordinated and offered two workshops.
The Mapping with Drones workshops helped attendees learn how to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). This 3-day workshop offered in Blacksburg, VA and Richmond, VA attracted 28 participants from four states. The participants represented an array of organizations including educational institutions (precollege and higher education), state agencies, research institutes, planning district commissions (PDC’s), and the private sector.
Mapping with Drones workshop included instruction on the legal and safe operations of sUAS in support of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) remote pilot knowledge test. Discussions and presentations associated with sUAS applications and data collection sensors and platforms (both fixed wing and rotor) were provided. Participants acquired valuable information to streamline data collection in the field, maintain equipment, and enhance collected data through image processing options to facilitate spatially enhanced decision-making.
Additional sUAS workshops are being scheduled in January 2019 (Blacksburg) and spring 2019 (Richmond and Tidewater).
GeoTEd-UAS faculty cohort members Kevin Hamed, Ph.D. and Tamara Lasley of Virginia Highlands Community College recently held a sUAS training session during VHCC’s faculty in-service.
The one hour session introduced faculty to the potential of sUAS and strategies to include sUAS in their courses. Interested faculty members were able to fly a Phantom-4 during the second half of the in-service.
Around 25 faculty members representing a diversity of departments including those from History, Chemistry, Music Psychology, Math and Precision Machining attended the event.