Rangeland remote sensing applications with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the national airspace: challenges and experiences.

TitleRangeland remote sensing applications with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the national airspace: challenges and experiences.
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsLaliberte, Andrea S., Rango A., Winters C, Maxwell CJ, Slaughter A.L
Conference NameAmerican Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) Annual Conference
Date Published03/2009
Conference LocationBaltimore, MD
ARIS Log Number239317
Keywordsabstract, National Airspace, remote sensing, UAS, unmanned aerial systems

In recent years, civilian applications of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have increased considerably due to their greater availability and the miniaturization of sensors, GPS, inertial measurement units, and other hardware. UAS are well suited for rangeland remote sensing applications, because of the remoteness and low population density of rangelands, and the need of land management agencies to monitor and assess millions of acres of rangeland, a task that is not feasible with ground monitoring techniques alone. While UAS offer reduced operational costs, faster deployment, and more flexibility than piloted aircraft, the operator also has to conform to the Federal Aviation Administrations’s (FAA) regulations on operating a UAS in the National Airspace, limiting the area and altitude of the UAS mission. We report here on 1) our experiences with obtaining Certificates of Authorization to operate a UAS for the purpose of image acquisition for rangeland monitoring, 2) on the UAS mission, and 3) on image processing and analysis. We acquired 6-cm resolution true color aerial photography over rangelands in southern New Mexico and southwestern Idaho. Concurrently, field measurements of vegetation were collected. The imagery was orthorectified, mosaicked, and analyzed using object-based image analysis. Geometric and classification accuracies were sufficient for rangeland monitoring and assessment purposes, and allowed for mapping the structure and patterns of vegetation and soil in great detail. The results show that UAS are a viable tool for rangeland monitoring, given the current constraints of FAA regulations. Those regulations are in flux, and it is anticipated that in the future, policies for UAS operations will be implemented, including the separation of large and small UAS.