As the technology continues to become more affordable and accessible, more companies are realizing the benefits of using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to help manage and maintain renewable resources. Forestry is just one industry where researchers, service providers, and land and business owners are determining the applications and circumstances that are best suited for UAS operations.
The goal for these early adopters (of UAS technology) is to achieve the same level of accuracy as with traditional methods of collecting the imagery and data while reducing operating costs, minimizing risk and safety concerns, and improving the overall quality of the information that is gathered.
The applications with the highest potential gains are where a manned aircraft is used to gather data on small to medium areas of land. Typically, several repetitive flights are required for periodic measurements that tend to be tedious, potentially unsafe and expensive. Similarly, using traditional ground survey techniques, ground crews are required to walk across potentially hazardous terrain and they rely on daylight hours and good weather to capture the data effectively. The cost of the overall project can, therefore, increase with the unpredictable nature of the working environment. Forestry professionals are starting to benefit from surveys and other tasks performed by UAS in the following areas:
This article discusses the value of aerial imagery, the breadth of applications that can benefit from using small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) technology, the advantages and some of the challenges encountered when capturing aerial imagery with a sUAS.
The following is an excerpt from the article:
The Value of Perspective
The point of having flying robots, aka small unmanned aircraft systems (sUASs), is as much about imaging as about flying. Amazon Prime Air may someday deliver instant shopping gratification from the skies, but for the near future the most valuable payload a tiny flying robot can carry is usually an image sensor, followed closely by a transmitter to beam images back to the ground for a remote view.
This should be no surprise—the insights we gain from high-level perspectives are profound and incredibly valuable. Whether from trees, hills, towers, or eventually balloons and aircraft, we have always sought higher vantage points. The urge to acquire them is fundamental, built into our bodies (better visibility is one theory for bipedalism) as well as our languages—think of words like “overview,” “supervise,” “surveillance,” and “understanding the big picture.” Poets have written about the gift of “see[ing] ourselves as others see us.” Perhaps the ultimate “perspective photo” is the one astronauts get looking back at earth; those lucky enough to experience it firsthand frequently describe it as life-changing. In some cases aerial views can also be life-saving…or at least day-making.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Aviation Services (OAS) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) regarding the operation of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) weighing 55 lbs (25 kg) or less engaged in public aircraft operations below 400 ft. (122 m) AGL.
Security applications often take place in a confined environment and involve monitoring specific areas of interest - the same is true for uses like forensics and accident reconstruction. While applications, like Search and Rescue, involve looking for very specific targets of interest within a very large area. The ability to use sUAS in all of these examples is extremely beneficial to any public safety organization.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently selected six test sites (out of 25 proposals from 24 states) to conduct the research needed to determine the certification and operational requirements to safely integrate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into US airspace and allow people to use UAS technology in commercial applications. The six sites were selected because they represent the geographic and climatic diversity across the country.
As part of the UAS program, the FAA will help each test site establish safe test environments and ensure that each site operates under strict safety standards. Each test site is also required to comply with federal, state and other laws protecting an individual’s right to privacy; make privacy policies publicly available; provide a written plan for how the data will be used and retained; and conduct a review of the privacy practices, annually, that allows for public feedback.