Happily droning on: A tool for mapping and monitoring
Drones help NCC see the big picture when mapping hard-to-access landscapes.
Thanks to a generous donation from Bruce Power, the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) work in Ontario is reaching new heights, due in part to our new friendly eye in the sky. In Ontario, the Areomapper Talon is helping conservation staff truly see the big picture when it comes to mapping and monitoring uninhabited and hard-to-access landscapes.
The unpiloted aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly called a “drone,” has a wingspan of two metres, but weighs only three-and-a-half kilograms because its body is comprised of high impact, lightweight foam. Equipped with a high resolution camera, the UAV is able to take detailed images of NCC properties so that staff can map locations of invasive species like phragmites, strategically plan control efforts and detect changes in the ecological landscape. This is a huge help for NCC’s conservation biologists, who can use the Areomapper to see where action needs to be taken, and to visually track changes in ecology from year to year.
During a test flight at NCC’s Turkey Point property, the drone was programmed with its flight path and launched to 120 metres. Since it is not equipped with landing gear, launching requires someone to run holding the drone out at their shoulders, with the propeller facing into the wind, before it can take off and collect valuable data on its pre-programmed flight path.
Described by GIS and conservation data coordinator Gary White as more of a “controlled crash” than a landing, bringing the drone back down to earth is a little less than graceful. Luckily for the drone, it is made out of durable, high impact material and equipped with a parachute. Although staff are getting used to it and learning to trust the durability of the craft, Gary White shared that the first few “landings” were difficult to watch.
There is always a learning curve and many challenges to overcome when working with new technology. Brett Norman, conservation biology coordinator, can speak to these challenges from his experience learning to use the craft, sharing that “with practice, the drone can be an extremely valuable tool for us."
Norman adds that, "learning to use the drone is a challenge for everyone involved and is further complicated by the logistics of planning flights (receiving flight permits, planning transportation to remote locations, finding appropriate land/launching locations, determining weather influences and more). It appears that those challenges get ironed out a little bit more with every flight. Simply put, it’s a great tool with new challenges and requires great team work to overcome them.”
NCC is thankful for the support of Bruce Power and is looking forward to using the drone further as we find new ways to apply this invaluable piece of technology.