February 25, 2012

Aero-drones used to monitor forests

drone_lr.jpgConservationists use remote-controlled plane as conservation tool

With funding from the National Geographic Society, the Orangutan Conservancy, and Denver Zoo, ecologists and biologists have developed a conservation drone equipped with cameras, sensors and GPS to map deforestation and also count orangutans and other endangered species in North Sumatra, Indonesia.
The goal of this project is to develop low-cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that conservation biologist in the tropics can use for surveying forests and biodiversity.  Drones are already used by the military, in Hollywood films and also in agriculture, but they are fairly new to conservation and rainforest management.  In 2007,  NASA also developed drones to help control forest fires.

The key to success for the wide application of drones for conservation will be the price.  At present, commercial drone systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  This new system, however, cost less than $2,000 and can also be carried quite easily in a backpack.   The drone operator pre-programs each mission on a laptop simply by clicking waypoints along a GPS planned flight path on a Google Map.

The drones incorporate onboard sensors – including GPS, altitude and airspeed – and can take photographs or videos depending on the camera system installed, offering the potential for cost-effective monitoring even in the most difficult of terrains.  According to the developers of these new conservation drones, they can be an effective alternative to satellite images for mapping the landscape and can perform better than satellite data in cases where an area needs to be mapped in real-time and repeatedly.

During four days of testing, the drone flew 30 missions without a single crash and a pre-programmed flight mission (usually around 25 minutes) can cover around 50 hectares. On one mission, the drone recorded video of smoke rising from a forest area.

 Source: Mongabay and NASA



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