Uses For Drones Continue To Grow

by Jonathan Beck
UAS Instructor
Northland Community & Technical College
NSF ATE DroneTECH Principal Investigator
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2018 issue

Through partnerships, Northland Community and Technical College (NCTC), along with St. Cloud State University (SCSU), are advancing Technician Education parallel to cutting edge industry developments. Industry partners are relying on the expertise of NCTC and SCSU in drone and geospatial technologies. These engagements allow the educational institutions to work with industry partners firsthand on applying the technology and developing an understanding of how technicians will use this information in the field. Lessons learned are then driven back into the classroom, educator workshops and youth camp activities.

AGRICULTURE: Northland’s applied research in agriculture has involved working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), University of Minnesota, and several local and regional implement dealers. Northland’s MDA applied research project “Digital Imagery, Precision Agriculture” involved weed mapping and prescription applications. This created a buzz in the region and interest from many local organizations to support further development of drone operations, investment into the programs, and job opportunities.

LAND SURVEY & MAPPING: Working with Pennington and Stearns County Watershed District Offices, Northland was awarded a Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources project to conduct drainage ditch inventory and assessment. Northland and SCSU students are exploring geospatial software and drone flights to determine best practices for organizing imagery data and creating models for volumetric assessment and change detection. This is leading to better water quality, soil erosion monitoring, and inspections from which lessons learned are driven into the curriculum.

PUBLIC SAFETY: Drones support the local fire teams and emergency management teams across the state of Minnesota. Through a Minnesota State initiative, Northland developed a small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Fire Training Course. This course was approved by the Minnesota Board of Fire and Training Education. Minnesota Fire Teams can now access this training. The use of drones allows fire and emergency management teams the ability to have a bird’s eye view of a scene.

3D MODELING & OBJECT RECOGNITION: Northland and SCSU are currently working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Minnesota DNR was awarded a Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources project to investigate the effectiveness of Remote Sensing for Forestry Inventory Assessment. 700,000 acres of Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and Imagery Data are being collected and analyzed. Northland faculty and students are flying drones to collect data from specific research plots in this area of study. 3D models of the Chippewa National Forest and Superior National Forest sites are being developed. These models, along with geospatial tools, may help profile characteristics and maturity of trees. Results could help define cut lines based on tree type and forecast economic return for harvest.

VIDEOGRAPHY: Northland students and faculty have used drones to capture sporting events for review by coaches and players. The videos and images are also used to promote student athletics and upcoming sporting events.

INFRASTRUCTURE INSPECTION: Northland is currently working with the City of Warren using thermography to assess city infrastructure. This will be used to modernize and increase energy efficiency. Other common industry uses involve using drones for inspecting communications towers, wind turbines and bridges.

The partnership between Northland, SCSU and industry is driving education in new technology at the beginning of industry adoption. This not only benefits educational programs and industry advancements, but it also creates new jobs and skill demands, and provides a solution to fill these critical gaps at the same time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jonathan Beck is the UAS Instructor/Program Manager at Northland Community and Technical College, Thief River Falls, Minnesota. This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE 1501629 and 1700615). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 800-959-6282

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