hen was the last time you had fun doing field research? What’s that you say? Not ever? Then you probably haven’t tried using a quadcopter drone yet.
A quadcopter drone is a remotely-operated, miniature helicopter that is lifted and propelled by four rotors. These drones can carry high-definition cameras that are able to capture spectacular aerial video at a fraction of the cost of a full-sized helicopter rental. Quadcopters are increasingly used by business owners such as sports photographers, wildlife photographers, hunters (feral pig spotting), travel agents, and real estate agents (although commercial use of drones was ruled illegal by the FAA in the US). Scientists are just getting started finding ways to use aerial drones in field research such as these agriculture researchers.
Last week, I had an opportunity to go out with some colleagues who were testing one, specifically a Phantom II sold by DJI. As you will see in the video, my colleagues are using the drone to acquire low-altitude video of some coastal ecosystems, which can often be remote and/or difficult to traverse on foot.
I drove with two colleagues to Golden Meadow, Louisiana where we met Dr. Mark Byrnes of Applied Coastal Research and Engineering and his son Dylan, who is the expert at piloting their quadcopter. This group has been studying some of the salt marshes in south Louisiana and want to use the drone to assess vegetative recovery from disturbance as well as changes in the geomorphology of the shorelines.
We convened for dinner at a local restaurant and discussed the plan for the following day. After sampling the local cuisine (grilled shrimp and sweet potato fries for me), we headed to the hotel where we fired up the drone in the hotel parking lot to check that all systems were functioning properly. Dylan flew the drone, with its lights flashing red and green, around the hotel and periodically up to a couple hundred feet overhead. Before long, we had drawn a crowd of hotel employees and guests. The next morning, we drove to where the study site was located and spent several hours flying the drone around the area. The main objective was to get an idea of how the quadcopter would perform and to begin working out a survey protocol to use on future field trips.
Here’s a video showing some of the highlights:
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com