Harnessing drone technology – Community College Daily

In remote parts of South Florida, experts believe there are 300,000 Burmese pythons, massive invasive visitors that are as long as a small car and have wiped out all but a few other animals in the areas they inhabit. They are now starting to consume alligators.

In rural New Jersey 2,000 miles away, students from Warren County Community College (WCCC) are involved in a research project to help solve the problem from the air.

They use drone data as part of a larger, unique collaboration with the world’s largest aviation and aerospace university. And as students learn to analyze data, perhaps the skills they develop can be applied to spotting an elusive bear causing trouble in a residential neighborhood, measuring the effects of algal blooms, improve agricultural production or even help first responders save lives during fires or active fire scenarios. spotting a gun in a crowd.

“The drone and python hunting camera we are helping to develop could be used in many other useful ways,” says WCCC President Will Austin. “Equally important, however, being involved in a project like this is so good for our students, and it wouldn’t have happened without this collaboration.”

Students and faculty at both institutions are analyzing the data to determine the effectiveness of using drones and near-infrared cameras to detect snakes – research that has so far yielded positive results. Near-infrared light reflects off foliage and other objects, but not as significantly off snakes. They will investigate the potential for using this equipment in various other ways and formally present evidence of its effectiveness.

Leverage resources

Unique in itself, the project is part of a larger and more formal collaboration between WCCC and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), based in Daytona Beach, one of the best aviation schools in the country.

The agreement will not only allow students from WCCC’s nationally acclaimed drone program to seamlessly enroll in ERAU to complete their bachelor’s degree, but it will also allow schools to collaborate on research and grants, share technology and faculty and working together on projects like this.

“We have a lot of cooperative agreements with four-year colleges, but this is different,” Austin says. “Embry-Riddle is an elite aviation and aerospace university, and for us to partner with their program is absolutely an honor. Based on our history together already, this was a natural step forward for both schools.

John Watret (left), Chancellor of ERAU Worldwide, and WCCC Chairman Will Austin shake hands as they sign their partnership agreement on their drone programs.

Austin says he believes that beyond developing a pathway for students, the collaboration came about because both institutions were interested in “expanding knowledge and capacity.”

WCCC’s drone program has grown from three students when it was established five years ago to 40 currently. state-of-the-art manufacturing labs are complete, expected fall 2022.

The facilities will train students to design, assemble and operate drones costing between $100 and $100,000. They will also increasingly offer instruction in the development of related robots and other types of remotely operated robotic vehicles and the “automated mobility business”, which includes the evolution of drones as transport vehicles for people and goods, which are used worldwide and are awaiting approval for use in the United States

Warren’s program also specializes in precision agriculture, an emerging field that uses data collected by drones to improve production, a logical area of ​​study for the college given its location amid farmland.

Growth potential

Joe Cerreta, an ERAU associate professor involved in the collaborative effort, notes that Austin, an ERAU graduate, had maintained a connection between the two campuses and sought ERAU’s assistance in acquiring certification. operator for some of his programs in a firm commitment to building his college’s drone training. Among other things, it now offers the industry’s best certification for operating drones.

“He’s such an active leader and he sees the value in this field and how it can be used to solve so many problems and improve lives,” Cerreta says.

Austin says ERAU officials had the expertise and the programming, and he could see how connecting to WCCC would benefit them. He says that initially the two colleges shared research on how drones could help improve public safety, surveying and agricultural production. They have also begun establishing pathways for WCCC students to transfer to ERAU, which has campuses in Florida and Arizona and an online program.

Related article: Focus on drones

The first student will transfer between the institutions this year, but Cerreta and Austin say they expect the number to grow quickly as they continue to work out some differences in course structure and credits.

“The exchange of faculty expertise can benefit us in several ways. It gives us and our students access to a range of skills and news to expand student knowledge,” says Austin, noting that he also envisions ERAU graduate students becoming instructors on his campus. . Finding faculty in the areas the college aims to address has been a challenge in developing the curriculum, he notes.

Share technology

A recent gathering for faculty from both schools included sessions on cutting-edge technology, including working with WCCC’s sophisticated robotic dog, “Spot.”

A Matrice 300 RTK carrying a MicaSense RedEdge Dual 10-band multispectral camera is among the aircraft Warren provided to the research team to capture data for a project in the Everglades.

“It’s a good example of how expensive equipment (the Spot enterprise is around $200,000) can be shared and explored by both campuses in a field where equipment and software are expensive and rapidly changing” , says Austin.

Meanwhile, ERAU has access to and experience with standard photogrammetry software for Geographic Information System mapping, which links all kinds of data to maps and is widely used in most major industries and agrees with the use of drones, explains Cerreta. He shares the software and his knowledge with WCCC as well as upgrades or new applications.

“It’s valuable to have this partnership given the changing nature of high tech,” says Austin. “Stanford University has estimated that the knowledge base of AI doubles every three and a half months compared to that of computers, which doubles every two years, so it is difficult for a single institution to keep pace. .”

Search for additional university partners

For this reason, in part, Austin hopes other colleges will join the collaboration to enable additional avenues for information flow and resource sharing.

Both colleges are applying for grants to support some of the programs they are considering. Austin says the process benefits from the fact that two institutions have access to separate funding that could be used for collaborative work.

The arrangement will also naturally lead to joint research, such as the one developing from the project with pythons in Florida.

Sam D. Gomez