Unmanned aircraft mission for rangeland remote sensing applications in the US national airspace

TitleUnmanned aircraft mission for rangeland remote sensing applications in the US national airspace
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsLaliberte, Andrea S.
Conference NameUnmanned Vehicle Systems (UVS) Canada Conference
Date Published11/02/2009
Conference LocationVictoria, BC, Canada
ARIS Log Number247437
AbstractIn 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 for monitoring and assessing these areas, 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 Administration’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 in operating a UAS under Certificates of Authorization for the purpose of image acquisition for rangeland monitoring, 2) on the UAS missions, and 3) on image processing and analysis for vegetation mapping. 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 in spite of the current constraints of FAA regulations, UAS are a viable tool for rangeland monitoring.