Drone News

While they sometimes might have a reputation for being nothing more than fun novelties, drones have a very important job in high-risk environments like mines, construction sites and landfills: They’re helping keep employees safe.

In these types of environments, danger is everywhere. Huge and heavy equipment can still be hazardous, even if you’re driving around a site. However, instead of placing themselves in harm’s way, employees can fly drones over a site, gathering data and images without stepping foot in areas full of natural and manmade hazards.

Employers across the country are using drones for dozens of different business applications. Common industries using drones include construction, emergency management, mining, and oil and gas.

The challenge, then, is getting business executives on board with implementing drone technology into their employees’ day-to-day workflow.

Getting Comfortable

As with all emerging innovations, drones have had their naysayers. However, over the past couple of years, more business leaders have started to become comfortable with incorporating drones into their employees’ jobs, especially those who have seen firsthand how challenging – and potentially fatal – certain tasks can be.

A prime example comes from the mining industry, where employees use drones to improve workflows and reduce injuries and deaths. The drones perform versatile tasks such as taking pictures and inspecting key equipment in hard-to-reach places. Historically, these procedures would have required the help of a consultant; instead, miners rely on drones and data analysis experts to cull and evaluate collected data.


Despite the exciting advantages, executives open to drone technologies often hear complaints from workers who don’t understand the long-term benefits of handing over key responsibilities to a machine.

In these cases, leaders must focus on selling drones’ safety aspects without raising concerns about possible job losses. Individuals are still very much needed; they just become more efficient when they use drones. In fact, studies have shown that over the past 140 years, new technology has created more jobs than it has eliminated. Drones enable employees to allocate valuable time to other important work that a machine can’t handle.

With education, supervisors can relieve concerns and help their employees see drones as useful additions to their daily workflow – not something to be suspicious about. At that point, mining and solid waste executives can lean on several strategies to adopt drones into their work schedules to make sure work gets done and everyone comes home to their family at night.

Take Business to New Heights

What are some of the biggest responsibilities of working drones? The first is equipment inspection.

With incredible speed, drones can cover large plots of land in a short amount of time to take measurements and monitor equipment. Through their eagle-eyed sensors and cameras, they can check for issues in places where people wouldn’t have comfortably gone in the past. Additionally, they can be sent into areas that are far too remote, difficult to reach or risky for employees to consider entering.

A second advantage to having drones “on staff” is to eliminate the need for individuals to walk around on stockpiles. In the past, people would collect inventory measurements and other data by hand, but drones can now more effectively measure stockpile volumes, therefore speeding up response time if immediate action is needed.

Drone technology can even become a part of indoor facility inspection. Many manufacturing plants and related buildings have areas that are too dangerous to send workers but still need regular examinations. Sending a drone to these spaces compromises only equipment and promises the possibilities of valuable information.

On-the-Job Future

Employees in a wide range of industries face hazards almost daily. From the likelihood of experiencing falls to stepping into an environment that could lead to an explosion, they put their lives on the line. But why should they continue to put in hours on tasks that could cause injury or fatalities when drones could help them avoid those risks?

Drones aren’t replacements for humans – they’re valuable extensions to improve human efficiency. Drones can be used to gather data and calculate stockpile measurements, perform site surveys, and, most importantly, keep employees out of harm’s way. Best of all, they want nothing in return for their precision, reliability and convenience, making them some of the most trustworthy, dependable lifesavers employees could have.


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Australian research into southern right whales using drone surveillance has for the first time revealed the high cost on the mother of giving birth and raising a young calf.

Fredrik Christiansen, who led a team of researchers from Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit, says baleen whales have one of the fastest offspring growth rates of any mammal.

“However, until now very little has been known about the toll this takes on the mother because it has not been possible to apply standard field metabolic techniques,” he says.

Dr Christiansen used drone photography to develop a novel method of measuring the amount of energy required for whales to reproduce.

The researchers monitored 40 mother-calf pairs, taking 1118 photos of body size estimates over periods ranging from 40 to 89 days.

Southern right whales journey thousands of kilometres from their sub-Antarctic feeding grounds to the Head of Bight, South Australia, to give birth.

The right whales stay for about three months to fatten their calves before returning to Antarctica.

For about four months they do not eat and rely solely on their fat stores.

“We quantified the cost of early calf growth for the mothers over a three-month breeding season by comparing the relationships between calf growth rate and the rate of loss in maternal body volumes,” says Dr Christiansen.

Southern right whales give birth to offspring about 5 metres long, or one-third the size of the mother when born. They double in size by the time they are weaned three months later.

“Calves grow really fast during the first months of their life and so there is a considerable energetic cost to the mother during lactation, since she is not feeding during this time and only relies on her own body reserves,” says Dr Christiansen.

Lactating females lose an average of 25% of their body volume in the first three months while the calf grows by an average of 3.2 cm in length each day.

“The study shows the considerable energetic cost that females face during lactation and highlights the importance of having sufficient maternal energy reserves to reproduce.”

It costs a mother around 126 litres of volume per day to feed their calf and support their own metabolic needs. At the same time the calf grows on average about 80 litres in volume daily.

Longer and more round females invest more energy in their calves compared to shorter and leaner females.

However, a big female in poor condition can invest the same energy as a small female in superb condition so human disturbance of a small female may have a bigger negative impact on reproduction.

Dr Christiansen says the findings provide important baseline information about the body condition of southern right whales that can be used for monitoring purposes.

“By knowing the cost of reproduction for southern right whale females, we can now use drones to monitor the body condition of this population between years to see if females have sufficient energy reserves to successfully wean their calf,” he says.

Other factors such as shipping, oil and gas development and climate change can all negatively affect the body condition of whales.


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Queensland University of Technology researchers are attempting to weed out invasive plants from coastal areas using drones and artificial intelligence.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, along with Aspect UAV, are partners in the project, which scans vegetation to spot weeds that would otherwise blend into the environment.

The researchers are plugging the images into a classification algorithm to identify bitou bush, an officially designated weed of national significance.

The data is then highlighted in images and on maps to show biosecurity officers areas to target for eradication work.

The project expands on work by QUT associate professor Felipe Gonzalez, who specialises in UAV autonomy, computer vision and remote sensing.

"This research in particular demonstrates the potential capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles, when they are paired with artificial intelligence and software tools, to efficiently monitor exotic weeds with an increasingly affordable and flexible approach,” Professor Gonzalez said.

"The automated analysis of the images gives a faster and more reliable method of detection as well as tangible and immediate benefits, including, in this case, a precise and exact report of the weed via a GPS database, full coverage of the studied area in challenging terrain, and reduced times while gathering reports of the weed’s distribution.”

Biosecurity Queensland officer Stacy Harris said the project offers the potential for a more cost-effective and reliable system for detecting introduced species.

She said surveys are currently undertaken using specialised personnel on foot and in manned aircraft, which can be extremely challenging and costly.

"There are also areas that cannot be easily surveyed, due to the difficult terrain and density of vegetation,” said Harris.

"Drone and machine learning technology such as this is a big step forward, as it allows for a more accurate process of detecting [bitou bush], and a more efficient eradication program, so we can help stop its spread.”

QUT is currently expanding the capability of the classification algorithms so they can be used in more diverse terrain and with a wider range of plants.

"Part of the novelty of this approach is the potential of analysing and gathering accurate and feasible reports of other weeds in the short- and mid-term without transforming significantly the system by itself," Gonzalez told iTnews.

"The experience collected in this project will improve response programs for future control and eradication programs not only for the surveillance of flora but also for fauna species."


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Some 300 drones lit up the night sky over Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Wednesday night as Israel celebrated countrywide 70 years of sovereignty.

The beautiful aerial display took place during the traditional torch-lighting ceremony in the capital. A modern take on the annual firecracker show, the drone display as well as the team that operates it originate in the American-based semiconductor manufacturing company Intel.

On Wednesday it was announced that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich planned to attend the ceremony as a special gesture in honor of the country's anniversary festivities.

The company has a branch in Israel, where it employs some 11,000 Israelis in research and development centers.

The drones created gorgeous blue images against the backdrop of the dark night sky, forming the portrait of the father of modern political Zionism (also known as Chozeh HaMedinah) Theodor Herzl as well as renowned Israeli and Jerusalem-specific symbols such as a dove with an olive branch in its mouth, the Israeli flag, the Tower of David, the Dome of the Rock and the Chords Bridge.

The high-tech performance, which is revered worldwide, makes use of colorful LED illumination and GPS sensors. The drones, dubbed "Shooting Stars," are extremely light and weigh some 330 grams each. They are flown in a synchronized way via special technology that enables a single drone operator to maneuver a slew of them at a time.


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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as drones, have become a big business over the last few years, and the market is still continuing to grow. Business Insider predicts sales to grow beyond $12 billion in the year 2021. While drones already have a number of applications, a businesses can hire a programmer who can apply Augmented Reality to the technology in order to expand the possibilities.

When combined with AR, drones can be equipped with an advanced range of capabilities that will open up new opportunities for recreation, business, and government. This post will detail some of the ways AR is already changing the way drones are used.


Gaming is one of the most obvious applications for Augmented Reality drones. One example of this is the Mission Drone from Air Hogs Connect. With the Mission Drone and the linked app, users can pilot a physical UAV through virtual AR missions in . The app simulates a city through which the user can user can navigate the drone to complete various rescue missions.

Law Enforcement

Drones have the potential to significantly benefit law enforcement, and some police departments are already deploying drones in their fight against crime. Drones could be used for all manner of things, like surveillance, crowd monitoring, accident reconstruction, patrol, suspect apprehension, and search and rescue missions. UAVs could also be used to provide conditional awareness for police that are dealing with things like active shooter situations and hostage rescue.

Disaster Response

Some cities are starting to use drones as a tool for disaster response. During some recent disasters, drones were deployed to help find people that were in need of assistance. They have also been used to create disaster maps and assess damage after events like hurricanes and earthquakes. By using AR to overlay important data, drones could increase the effectiveness of and improve safety for first responders.


Engineers are already employing drones for a number of different applications. By adding AR technology, drones can be used to make several engineering tasks easier and even improve the results of some processes.

Surveyors are using drones to assist in evaluating land, and with AR, they could superimpose valuable geographic data over the images that come from the drones.

Engineers could also use drones to inspect bridges and levees. Construction engineers would be able to use drones to create 3D models of a project before the ground is even broken.


In recent years, drones have been used at the scene of some fires. In 2017, firefighters in Los Angeles deployed drones to help fight wildfires, and in London, firefighters used drones to help survey the Grenfell Tower fire.

Using drones, infrared cameras, and AR technology, technology can be used to create heat maps that can help firefighters locate hotspots. These can also help locate people that need rescue, and can survey a building to find where flames are spreading. This ensures that the structure is still safe for firefighters to enter.

We are already starting to see some of the ways in which AR can be applied to drones to make them more useful, but this is just the beginning. As AR developers experiment further with drones, they will find new applications for AR-enhanced UAVs.


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A sleek, spidery drone lifts off from Robert Nicholson's driveway, strafing the front of his colonial-style home while he tracks the vehicle's flight via a handheld view screen. The high-definition footage recorded by the drone's swiveling camera gives the landscape a cinematic quality, potentially catching the eager eye of a prospective buyer should the owner put his house up for sale.

Nicholson, founder of Aerial Visual Technologies and a recently minted real estate agent with Keller Williams, has no plans to sell anytime soon. But according to Nicholson and other area agents, drone photography and videos are becoming a potent industry tool — perhaps the most important innovation to enter real estate marketing since the internet — providing a visually compelling advantage in a marketplace congested with static two-dimensional photographs.

"With drones we can scale a property, put it into a video, and give you exact measurements based on GPS coordinates," Nicholson said. "As a seller, you can make it more functional for a buyer to say, 'This is what I'm getting.' In today's society, I have about 25 seconds to get your attention. You have to give people something different, because they get tired of the same thing."

Real estate professionals are employing these airborne cameras to produce swooping shots of homes or commercial buildings, showcasing properties from dramatic angles previously limited to expensive helicopter fly-bys.

As the technology is still relatively novel, using drones can raise an agent's profile and bring much-needed excitement to a listing, said Matt Gunn, owner of Gunn Photography Services, a Parma-based commercial drone company with a focus on real estate.

"If you have 1,000 homes, you'll have maybe 30 using aerial photos (in their listings)," Gunn said. "Drone photography is a unique way to market a property."

Gunn's company also made a teaser video using a drone for commercial brokerage firm Avison Young. The two-minute clip offers a bird's-eye view of the University Square shopping complex in University Heights, illuminating the 10-acre parcel's attributes as a mixed-use boon. Voice narration, graphics and low-key music lend the video an additional professional polish aimed at would-be development partners.

"Drone footage helps us hype the property that we're marketing," said Avison Young vice president David Horowitz. "We want to stand out and catch people's attention."

The technology has practical benefits as well. Cleveland production company Aerial Agents created a video of a large Avison-brokered industrial property on Cass Avenue, adding graphics to outline specific areas of the parcel ready for redevelopment. Still shots of the highlighted parcel were then used in the firm's printed marketing materials.

"It's geared toward developers who could assess the parcel and know what they have to work with," Horowitz said. "There's not many brokerages using videos with different angles and zooms."

Most homebuyers begin their search online, so differentiating properties through a high-quality "virtual tour" is key, drone proponents said. Keller Williams' Nicholson points to a ground-level photo of a lakefront colonial from a real estate magazine. While there's nothing wrong with a traditional curb-appeal shot, some choice overhead images would make the property pop in the mind of a buyer, he said.

"With a drone you could see the lake, the horizon, and the beach that sits behind the house," said Nicholson. "But you can't because this house looks like every other house on the block."

Drone imagery also saves time, as it displays details of a property a buyer may not glean until they get on site.

"Maybe a family doesn't want to deal with an in-ground pool because of the maintenance," Nicholson said. "If I'm a buyer's agent, I don't want to drag them to 15 different houses they're not going to want."

Howard Hanna real estate agent Susan Smith said drones are best suited for expansive single properties or sprawling developments. For instance, Howard Hanna flew a drone over the Bridgeport luxury home complex in Mayfield Heights, giving viewers insight on individual dwellings along with the overall layout of the neighborhood.

"It's exciting because it's interactive," said Smith. "You can start from a home's entrance and literally pull someone through the property."

For all its benefits, a drone can't shoot all the photography and video needed to market a listing. The technology is not well suited for interiors of smaller spaces, or properties shrouded by trees and other buildings, noted Gunn of Gunn Photography.

"I don't do interiors unless it's for large warehouses where I can fly safely inside," he said. "I've been asked to do mansions, but the risk isn't worth the reward. I don't want to crash into somebody's chandelier."

Realtors hiring a drone photographer should be aware of legal and safety risks, area experts said. Any professional company will have a Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 UAV Operator's certificate as well as liability insurance that specifically covers piloting a drone for commercial photography purposes. The National Association of Realtors even offers a guide to help agents navigate the ever-growing realm of flying cameras.

Regarding privacy concerns, Nicholson will inform a client's neighbors if he's shooting a house, and will make sure to block particular lines of site — if there are children outside, for example — upon request.

With the spring home buying season underway, drones will continue to be a valuable asset utilized by the forward-thinking real estate company, he said.

"This technology is not going away; it's only getting better," Nicholson said. "Sooner or later, drones or going to take over the industry. It's one of those things where you either jump on or you get left behind."


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Advancements in the robotics field are helping to transform a number of industries, construction being one of them. Companies that build things can expect to see a host of new machines that perform a variety of tasks -- adding efficiency to construction projects as well as reducing injuries to human workers.

"More and more construction companies are beginning to realize and appreciate the value of robots at the jobsite," said Al Cervero, senior vice president, construction, mining & utility, at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

"Robots not only increase precision but also improve working conditions from an ease and safety perspective," Cervero said. "Unmanned and autonomous machines will soon become the norm. In fact, these types of machines are being produced and sold by almost every manufacturer," that is part of the AEM, according to Cervero.

Automation is primarily seen today in mining and farming, Cervero said, because these sites are constant from day-to-day and year-to-year. "With farming, whether the job is planting, fertilizing or irrigating, each step is similar to the previous step," he said.

In construction, automation is more challenging due to the complexity of the work and the fact that every site and every project is constantly changing.

"In fact, you could potentially have multiple fleets of different machines that are all working simultaneously on all aspects of the job," Cervero said. "Drones could also be considered robots in a way and are frequently being adapted to many construction projects to map, document and in some cases control the site itself."

A construction project is paid, in many cases, by completion. Data analytics and drones are being used today to map the progress and completion of a phase, and then to map the next phase, Cervero said. "Data analytics and telematics are also used to understand how a day-to-day process on a construction site can be improved and made more efficient," he said.

These technological advancements have made it possible for construction machinery to constantly transmit all kinds of data to cloud-based systems, while the cloud-based systems are simultaneously communicating back to the machines to understand the next step of the building process, Cervero said.

Wearable devices "are another clear indication of how new technology works with robotic/autonomous construction equipment," Cervero said. "Wearables can identify safe and unsafe locations on the jobsite and provide overhead display of a project via augmented reality that digitizes real-time plans for comparative and next phase planning."

AEM is holding its CONEXPO-CON/AGG show March 7-11 in Las Vegas, where many of these newer technologies will be on display. The exhibit will feature everything from autonomous and remote-controlled machinery to the first-ever 3D-printed excavator. Other products include advanced drones for mapping, wearable radio frequency identification vests, visual augmented reality display hard hats, solar-powered roadways, and self-healing asphalt.

No, robots won't take your job -- just part of it. 


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BHP Billiton is trialling drones fitted with military-grade cameras to provide real-time aerial footage and 3D maps of mining sites. Why is the company turning to drones for this important task?

Across industries, the potential for drones or unmanned aerial vehicles is starting to be realised. From military drones to children’s toys, drones are making a big impact. The mining industry is no different, and drones are already being used throughout the world for maintenance and exploration activities.

Companies are turning to drones for a number of reasons, such as improved safety, increased efficiency and cost savings. This has become particularly attractive in recent years, as depressed commodity prices have forced companies to search for ways to increase productivity.

One of the first companies to begin using drones was BHP Billiton, a world leader in the production of iron ore, metallurgical coal and copper. The company operates predominantly in the Americas and Australia, with a workforce of more than 60,000.

BHP has now been using drones for three years, throughout various operations in its Australian mines, and has recently started trialling their use in mineral surveillance. So what makes them so ideal for the job of surveying?

Maintenance, monitoring and mapping

BHP first started trialling the use of drones in 2015 at its Queensland sites, and has since used them in a number of different ways. “At some of our coal mines in Queensland, they’re used to ensure areas are clear before a blast takes place and to track fumes post-blast,” says BHP head of production for mining BMA Frans Knox. “They’re also used to improve road safety on sites, by monitoring traffic, road conditions and hazards. At our Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, the maintenance team use them to help inspect overhead cranes, towers and roofs of tall buildings to avoid working at height.”

The company is now testing specially adapted drones to conduct mineral surveys. Together BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) and BHP Mitsui Coal (BMC) have seven coal mines in the Bowen Basin in Central Queensland, operating as Queensland Coal, with a resource of 11.1 billion tonnes of high-grade hard coking coal. Mineral surveillance drones can help build 3D maps of these mine sites, allowing BHP to constantly monitor the mines’ progress and safety. They will also help to identify minerals for potential extraction by looking at mineral patterns.

“We’ve been trialling drones fitted with military-grade cameras to provide real-time aerial footage and 3D maps of our sites,” says Knox. “This is far cheaper than using planes for survey work, and the savings at our sites in Queensland alone are estimated to be A$5m a year.”

These drone-based surveillance systems are being developed alongside supercomputers that will allow BHP to analyse the site and make decisions at far greater speeds than previously.

“With drones, we now gather more information about our sites than ever before,” Knox says. “We can more quickly and accurately measure our stockpiles, review compliance to design against mine plans and understand where we need to make changes to improve safety or boost productivity.”

The drones are coming

Outside of site maintenance and development, BHP also expects drones to play a big role in its community work. This includes a current project where drones are being used to map areas of cultural heritage close to the mine sites.

“For me, the bigger picture is what this technology allows us to do that could never have been done before, and for us that means being able to share and preserve cultural heritage that might otherwise have been lost,” BHP heritage manager Daniel Bruckner said. “We’re now able to share all our footage with local Aboriginal groups, and they’re excited about that possibility.”

There are lots of positive reasons for transferring to the use of drones within mining, but many are concerned about the effect they will have on employment. The mining industry has been employing fewer and fewer people for decades; in the US, mining jobs declined by 60% between 1980 and 2015. Automation has played a large role in this drop, as machines are increasingly capable of taking on tasks that were previously labour-intensive.

This is a trend that seems likely to continue, as IoT and automation continue to make jobs obsolete. Automated trucks are already becoming a common sight on mine sites, reducing the number of drivers required by mining companies.

While drones may reduce the need for traditional surveyors, should BHP’s trial prove successful, they are creating a range of new, well-paid roles. A drone pilot at a mine site can expect to make as much as A$200,000 a year, as much as an airline pilot. It is one of a number of specialised roles being created by technology that require greater training opportunities to allow the mining industry to continue to develop apace.

“Technology will change the nature of work,” says Knox. “For example, with drones capable of delivering samples from site, surveyors will spend less time gathering data in the field and more time interpreting it. And soon, more drones could be managed by ‘pilots’ operating from a range of different vantage points.”

Drones look set to play an increasingly important role in mining operations around the world, increasing safety and productivity. Using them in mineral surveillance could save time and money, but a new generation of drone-capable surveyors must rise before it becomes commonplace.


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Black Swift Technologies (BST), a specialized engineering firm based in Boulder, CO, announced today expansion of a pathfinder mission with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to develop enhanced multi-angular remote sensing techniques using small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). These autonomous platforms can more effectively and efficiently monitor crop health and growth monitoring through the use of a narrow spectral band (centered at 531 nm) used to derive vegetation photosynthesis related indices (e.g., CCI “chlorophyll/carotenoid index” and PRI “photochemical reflectance index”) by tracking seasonally changing pigment ratios and photosynthetic rates not capable with established greenness indices (e.g., NDVI).

The pathfinder mission, called MALIBU (Multi AngLe Imaging Bidirectional reflectance distribution function small-UAS), uses Black Swift’s most advanced small Unmanned Aircraft System, the Black Swift S2™ (Figure 1), to capture multi-angle reflectance measurements for land surface studies using multispectral imagers, oriented at different viewing angles. MALIBU’s primary subsystem—a multi-angular sensor array based on the Tetracam Mini-Multiple Camera Array’s (MCA) imaging system—generates science-quality reference data sets suitable for calibration/validation activities supporting NASA’s flagship Earth Science missions.

For nearly 30 years, NASA has been using satellite remote sensors to measure and map the density of vegetation over the Earth. Using NOAA’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), scientists have been collecting images of our planet’s surface. These images show the density of plant growth over the entire globe. The most common measurement is called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). NDVI is calculated from the visible and near-infrared light reflected by vegetation. Healthy vegetation absorbs most of the visible light that hits it, and reflects a large portion of the near-infrared light. Unhealthy or sparse vegetation reflects more visible light and less near-infrared light. NDRE (Normalized Difference Red Edge) is an index formulated when the Red edge band is available in a sensor enabling chlorophyll content to be ascertained. While NDVI and NDRE can provide valuable data, advancements in multispectral sensors correct for some distortions in the reflected light caused by airborne particles and ground cover below the vegetation for more accurate imagery and data sets.

While typical multispectral cameras might have five channels, MALIBU’s multi-angular sensor array is comprised of 12 sensors or channels. The primary (port side) Tetracam camera has five channels and the incident light sensor, while the secondary (starboard side) camera has six channels. When combined, the cameras operate as a single sensor suite with a combined field-of-view of 117.2 degrees. The MALIBU channels were specifically chosen to cover the relative spectral response (RSR) of multiple satellite land sensors; such as the Landsat-8 OLI, the Sentinel-2 MSI, both Terra and Aqua MODIS, Terra MISR, Suomi-NPP/JPSS VIIRS, and Sentinel-3 OLCI. By deploying MALIBU several times over a single day, data from multiple solar angles and also multiple observation angles can be obtained, significantly improving the accuracy of BRDF retrievals.1

According to NASA, “By enabling increased understanding of surface directional reflectance variability at sub-pixel resolution, MALIBU will allow NASA missions to assess and improve the retrieval of reflectance-based biogeophysical properties”. This includes vegetation indices, land cover, phenology, surface albedo, snow/ice cover and Leaf Area Index (LAI)/Fraction of Absorbed Photosynthetically Active Radiation (fAPAR), and other terrestrial Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and its Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), Terrestrial ECVs generated from satellites provide the empirical evidence needed to understand and predict the evolution of climate, to guide mitigation and adaptation measures, to assess risks and enable attribution of climate events to underlying causes2.

MALIBU will also provide users with highly accurate imagery of crop status, plant vigour, growth monitoring, pest and disease detection—essential knowledge and data for evaluating crop development, yield maximization, and production efficiency.

“The goal of MALIBU is to capture timely and accurate in-situ data at a fraction of the cost of traditional NASA airborne science platforms,” says Jack Elston, Ph.D., CEO of Black Swift Technologies. “By measuring land biophysical parameters from a cost-effective, repeatable sUAS platform, MALIBU complements NASA’s satellite observations while significantly reducing the logistical and technical complexities of manned aircraft operations in remote geographical regions.”

MALIBU relies heavily on Black Swift Technologies’ proprietary SwiftCore™ Flight Management System to achieve the accurate results the mission outlines. SwiftCore’s high-performance autopilot function allows the science team to deploy MALIBU at both AGL (variable height dependent on terrain) and MSL (near constant height), generating multi-angle reflectance measurement techniques for land surface process studies using sUAS. In initial flight tests, MALIBU was able to capture high angular sampling of surface reflectance anisotropy, (i.e., defined by the Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function, another Terrestrial ECV), at 10cm spatial resolution. Sampling of both diurnal and seasonal landscape patterns were achieved under clear-sky conditions (often difficult at high latitudes). Additionally, the quick turnaround between flight deployments (i.e., ready for the next flight in less than one hour), allowed the science team to conduct measurements during a Landsat-8 OLI overpass.

The success of the first field campaign of the MALIBU system demonstrates to scientists and land use planners worldwide the ability to monitor and plan for agriculture, climate and weather changes and effects more accurately and effectively than ever before.


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Aerial images taken by drones could help scientists to better understand the beneficial effects of trees shaping rivers during hot weather.

Tree planting has long been used as a way of keeping rivers cool.

Marine Scotland said fish such as salmon and brown trout were "relatively intolerant" of high temperatures.

It has been working on research that could eventually guide the "targeted planting" of trees where they would have the "greatest benefits".

Marine Scotland and the University of Birmingham have carried out the research because of concerns of the effect that increasing temperatures due to climate changes is having on rivers.


Last summer, a drone equipped with a high-resolution camera was flown over a tributary of the River Dee in Aberdeenshire.

Aerial images were taken of a section of the Girnock Burn and then used in the creating of a 3D map of tree heights along its banks.

The burn's salmon population has been the subject of monitoring work for more than 50 years.

Marine Scotland said drones could offer a low-cost method of studying remote stretches of rivers in Scotland, and the rest of the UK.

Information gathered by drones could be used to develop targeted planting at locations where trees would have the "greatest benefits in reducing the effects of climate change", it said.


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