On Monday, April 8, West Virginia University’s Natural Resource Analysis Center will host a seminar with members of the Roswell Flight Test Crew.

Scheduled for 10-11 a.m. in 1001 Agricultural Sciences Building on WVU’s Evansdale Campus, the hobbyists will discuss a range of issues related to the operation of small, multi-rotor aerial platforms.

While their name may imply something otherworldly, the work these hobbyists are doing is earth-bound.

Brian Zvaigzne and Patrick Sherman, founders of Roswell Flight Test Crew, build and pilot small unmanned aerial vehicles, often referred to as drone aircrafts, with mounted thermal sensors, cameras, and video transmitters which allow them to have a first-person view of what the model is seeing.

With the rapid advance of this hobby technology, the lines between radio-controlled models and professional unmanned aircraft systems have begun to blur.

Although controversial – especially with regard to privacy concerns – use of the technology could benefit WVU researchers tasked with mapping and measuring some of the Mountain State’s natural resources.

“We’ve had a requirement from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for a while to measure surface temperatures of cold water trout streams, but the technology we currently use doesn’t give us spatial variability of temperatures such that we can better understand the influence of ground water and springs on the stream that act as thermal refugia for trout especially in the hot summer months,” said Paul Kinder, research scientist with the Natural Resource Analysis Center in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. “We began to explore the idea of thermal imaging using drone technology and reached out to the Roswell Flight Test Crew for more information.”

Several telephone and e-mail conversations later, the groups decided it would be best if they met and discussed the technology in person.

“As hobbyists, members of the Roswell Flight Test Crew are actively exploring the potential of these systems to assist the public safety community as well as scientific research,” Kinder said. “This is a win-win, they know the unmanned aerial vehicles world and all it entails as well as how thermal imagining works; however, they’d like to learn about Geographic Information Systems and advanced mapping techniques from us. Their visit to will hopefully be of interest to other WVU researchers, students, and other public agencies as well.”

In addition to the perspectives of Zvaigzne and Sherman, the hour-long presentation will include insights from Kinder regarding how data acquired from these hobbyist drones can be accurately geo-referenced and used to further scientific understanding.

Following the presentation, the pair will deploy one of their aircraft to demonstrate the capture of thermal imaging data as well as aerial video for the purpose of mapping spatial variability of stream surface temperatures, as well as a wildlife census along reaches of the Upper Shavers Fork River in Randolph and Pocahontas Counties.

The area is part of WVU’s ongoing stream restoration project that aims to improve fish habitat and water quality.

“Privacy and safety are two of our priorities, and the unmanned aerial vehicle will be deployed in unpopulated, forested areas,” Kinder said. “However, we believe this technology is the future. As lawmakers wrestle with policy issues, it’s important for us to demonstrate the value of using the technology for research and scientific purposes.”

The Natural Resource Analysis Center was formed in the early 1990s as a multi-disciplinary research and teaching facility in the Davis College. Areas of expertise at the center include economic development and environmental sustainability, remote sensing, land cover mapping, landscape analyses, watershed-based analysis and applications, and GIS-based planning and decision-making.



CONTACT: Paul Kinder, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design
304-293-5386, Paul.Kinder@mail.wvu.edu

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