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This SERDP and ESTCP webinar focuses on DoD-funded research efforts to improve natural resource management with unmanned aircraft system (UAS) technology. Specifically, the investigators will discuss an operational framework for integrating UAS into the management of natural resources at installations, as well as a novel and cost-effective UAS technology that automates the process of collecting data from ground-based sensors.



“Region-Wide Integration of UAS Technology into DoD Natural Resource Management Through Demonstration, Coordination, Training, and Outfitting” by Dr. Susan Cohen (ESTCP Project RC19-5218)

The goal of this project is to demonstrate an operational framework for U.S. Marine Corps Installations EAST (MCIEAST) that facilitates the integration of civilian-led, unoccupied aircraft system (UAS) technology into the management of natural resources. This approach provides a unified system across the MCIEAST region, but it also allows individual Installations to develop their own uses and protocols as dictated by their mission and natural resource contexts. Specific project objectives include the development of regional protocols and rules as well as specialized training. These elements ultimately provide installation personnel with a pathway to professional remote pilot certification. Training integrates a range of representative applications of UAS technology for natural resource management that exist across the largely coastal MCIEAST installations – building skills that can be applied to various challenges. The landscape of drone regulations and usage by Department of Defense (DoD) civilians has changed dramatically over the last few years, including updates to DoD policy, available equipment, and alternative approval pathways. However, it is possible for federal civilians to navigate the hurdles and adopt UAS for a variety of management uses, including natural resources and beyond. Adoption and acceptance by leadership is a complex problem, and this presentation will demonstrate an implementation strategy.


“Use of the ‘Data Mule’ Unmanned Aircraft System to Remotely Download Ground Based Sensor Data on Military Lands” by Mr. David Delaney (ESTCP Project RC18-5101)

Ground sensors are often placed in remote or difficult-to-access areas to collect important natural resource data that inform management decisions and support military testing and training on installations. Data from ground sensors are usually collected manually (i.e., by vehicle or foot), which is time-consuming and costly and can expose personnel to safety risks. Moreover, access to field equipment can be restricted due to military training, environmental conditions such as terrain or weather, or to reduce resource disturbance (i.e., breeding season). This can delay data acquisition and lead to missed opportunities to make informed management decisions. This presentation will discuss the demonstration of a novel method using the Data Mule UAS to automate the process of collecting data from ground-based sensors, specifically camera traps. The Data Mule UAS technology consists of a UAS, communications payload, and ground data station that includes a communication hub, integrated camera trap, and solar panel. The Data Mule UAS with payload autonomously flies to each ground data station, hovers over the station while wirelessly uploading data from the ground station to the UAS payload, and then flies home with sensor data, which is offloaded by the field crew upon landing.

The project team demonstrated this technology for camera traps at water provisioning sites on the Barry M. Goldwater Range East (BMGR East) in 2019 and for monitoring sensitive nesting bird species on Naval Base Ventura County in 2020. The team successfully conducted multiple flights and sensor downloads at each of the demonstration sites. Some flights were upwards of 12 kilometers and others included visits to multiple ground stations in a single flight. The effectiveness and efficiency of the Data Mule system improves when data are collected from ground sensors that are more densely positioned on the landscape. This allows the system to collect data more quickly from multiple sensors (i.e., BMGR East), and more frequently, if required. The system is even more cost-effective when ground sensors are in more remote locations further from roads, which increases the time and cost of manual data collection. The results of this project are widely applicable across all military facilities, federal, state, or any lands of interest where there is a need for alternative cost-effective methods for collecting data from camera traps and other remote ground-based sensors.


Speaker Biographies 
Dr. Susan Cohen

Dr. Susan Cohen is the associate director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Institute for the Environment (IE) and director of the Carolina Drone Lab in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She works with interdisciplinary teams on applied research for ecosystem management and resilience across habitat types. Prior to IE, Dr. Cohen worked as a biologist for Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center and ran the SERDP-funded Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in eastern North Carolina. The program focused on the sustainability of coastal estuarine systems in the context of the military mission and climate change. Before joining DoD, she worked at the U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Station in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, as a research biologist focused on fire adapted forest ecosystems and plant communities. She served in the U.S. Peace Corps as a forestry extension volunteer in the Dominican Republic between 1992 and 1995. Dr. Cohen earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and master’s and doctoral degrees in forestry from North Carolina State University.


Mr. David Delaney

Mr. David Delaney is a research wildlife biologist/bioacoustician with the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Illinois. His work has concentrated on assessing the potential effects of anthropogenic disturbances on threatened, endangered, and species of concern and testing/demonstration of field technology for natural resource applications on state, federal, and DoD lands across the U.S. Prior to joining the DoD, Mr. Delaney worked for Rocky Mountain Research Station with the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona and for various non-profit research organizations. He earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management from the University of New Hampshire and a master’s degree from Northern Arizona University.