Get UAV workflow insights from successful GIS project leaders

By Rebeckah Flowers

Is it a shadow? A ferret? Or it's burrow?

Knowing the difference was a key challenge when Behron and Associates joined up with the World Wildlife Fund, the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Department, Idaho State University, Topcon and Esri to test the application of unmanned aerial systems and 3D imagery in monitoring the habitat of the black-footed ferret in the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana.

The black-footed ferret is one of North America's most endangered mammals. Previous efforts to reintroduce the ferret to its native lands were plagued by outbreaks of disease; now, a new reintroduction effort is underway, led by the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife department. With better disease management tools in place, success is more likely; but as the populations grow, a new challenge has emerged: the time, cost and manpower required to monitor the ferret population is too high.

So the question was asked: Could UAS and high resolution 3D imagery monitor the populations as well as, or better than, people on the ground, with less effort and less cost?

What about monitoring our nation's power grid?

Inspections can also be costly, time-consuming and in some cases, dangerous. Can UAS technology increase the speed at which utility lines are checked and resources are counted, without risk to employees? Can they "see" through dense tree cover? From how great a distance?

What about managing the flight plan when the topography changes in altitude? Or when you need to cover an area too large for a drone's power supply? And how do you process and analyze the thousands of images quickly enough to respond to a threat?

All these questions, and many more, were answered in two powerful presentations given by Ron Behrendt of Behron and Associates, Cody Benkelman, technical product manager -imagery at Esri, and Paul Schneider, GISP with Georgia Power, during February's Drones Flying Free event sponsored by Directions Magazine and GeoTech.

In just over an hour, these three presented a huge number of insights into the workflows and tools they used to overcome their project's unique challenges, creating a roadmap for others facing similar on-the-job obstacles. If you missed their presentations, you still have the opportunity to watch Workflows: from flight to impactful maps . Scroll to the bottom of the Drones Flying Free webpage for links to resources, tools and additional information provided by the presenters.

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