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Mapping on the Move

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, known as UAVs or drones, have a wide range of applications, from inspecting commercial aircraft to capturing video of sentimental locations for hospice patients, according to Smithsonian. As government bodies, businesses, and individuals find innovative new applications for UAVs, geographic information system (GIS) technology often has a key part to play.

Discover more about how GIS technology makes UAVs even more useful:

UAVs and GIS Working Together to Improve Dinosaur Research

Potential evidence of Dinosaurs

They roamed the earth millions of years ago, but there’s still much we don’t know about dinosaurs. However, UAVs and GIS technology make our picture of these prehistoric creatures much clearer, according to Anthony Romilio and his colleagues, writing for PeerJ.

Romilio, from the University of Queensland’s Vertebrate Palaeontology and Biomechanics Lab, leads a team of Australian scientists using drones and hand-held, depth-measuring laser scanners to map tracks dinosaurs such as theropods and sauropods left in the Dampier Peninsula. These tools help Romilio and his team create virtual three-dimensional models of the track sites more quickly, more cost effectively, and in greater detail than traditional mapping methods.

Writing for Mashable, Ariel Bogle says the work of Romilio’s team matters because there is little record of Australian dinosaurs of the early Cretaceous period. Their research also helps scientists understand the region’s ecology and more about the local dinosaur population and its behaviors.

GIS Experts Using UAVs to Conserve Jaguar Population

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology showed the vital role UAVs and GIS technology can play in animal conservation with their expeditions to the Peruvian Amazon Rain Forest in 2016. The team first traveled to the rain forest to capture data about the local area. They used statistics, virtual technology, mathematical modeling, and information from local Indigenous tribes to understand the endangered jaguar better and how they could protect it.

On their second journey, the scientists took a certified UAV pilot, UAVs from GIS technology firm GIS People, and the company’s GIS software Gruntify, a mobile data capture app, to gain even further insight. Combining information captured by the UAV in the air and Gruntify on the ground, the researchers learned more about the jaguar and its habitat. Their work looks to identify the places jaguars live and ensure they’re part of a planned “jaguar corridor,” a place where these rare cats can roam and breed safely from predators.

While researchers must currently synthesize the data from Gruntify and the UAVs manually, GIS People looks to link the data electronically to aid conservation efforts further.

UAVs, Augmented Reality, and GIS Data Working Together to Improve Flood Relief and Planning

By October 24, floods in 2016 had killed approximately 140 people in the United States, according to the Weather Channel. UAVs, augmented reality, and GIS data could provide a new high-tech solution to improve flood relief efforts and to reduce mortality rates.

In 2016, Rapid Imaging Software, Inc. demonstrated how small drones armed with Powered by SmartCam3D augmented reality software can capture video in flood zones that many other cameras cannot access, according to sUAS News. The augmented reality footage combines map data — licensed from leading GIS providers, according to Drone Business Center — and other key information onto captured video. This video, which shows markers that may be submerged such as street signs, helps viewers understand a flood scene. Once captured, the video can be distributed, allowing interested parties to assess the scene and view relief efforts as they unfold.

UAV operators can assess the extent of damage in the area and transmit information about hazards, such as closed roads and bridges, to the command center. Pilots may also mark locations for search and rescue teams to look for survivors.

While this type of video is useful during an emergency crisis, it can also help engineers and city planners, according to sUAS News. It notes that by viewing the scene during a flood, these professionals can devise better strategies for repair and renewal in flood zones. Indeed, city planners can uniquely benefit from online GIS degree programs for this reason.

Currently, the technology has only been used in flood zones, but it has the potential for other disaster zones such as the sites of earthquakes and hurricanes.

UAVs with GIS Technology Being Developed to Map and Clear Land Mines

CARE approximates that more than 70 people are killed or injured every day due to the 110 million land mines located globally. UAVs fitted with GIS sensor technology could hold the key to detecting and safely removing these global hazards, according to scientists from Bristol University. These academics are currently developing UAVs fitted with advanced hyperspectral imaging technology that can map the locations of land mines and clear them much more quickly, affordably, and safely than humans can.

Project researcher John Fardoulis told Nick Lavars of Project Atlas that clearing all current land mines would take more than 1,000 years and cost roughly $30 billion. Early testing suggests his team’s UAVs would perform the task much more efficiently.

“Flying over the Manchester United pitch will demonstrate that we can map a football pitch-sized area of land in two hours or less,” he explained. “Clearing a minefield that size can currently take months, and the maps our drones will generate should help deminers focus on the places where mines are most likely to be found. This will speed the process up and make the demining significantly safer.”

As the technology develops, the scientists believe their UAVs could gather images at various wavelengths, which could show explosive chemicals leaking from land mines into the surrounding environment.

“Living plants have a very distinctive reflection in the near infrared spectrum, just beyond human vision, which makes it possible to tell how healthy they are,” Dr. John Day, also from the University of Bristol, told Lavas. “Chemicals in landmines leak out and are often absorbed by plants, causing abnormalities. Looking for these changes might be a way of discovering the whereabouts of mines.”

If the potential applications for GIS technology excite you, you could be a good candidate for a Geographic Information Science and Technology Graduate program. Learn more by visiting the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute online.