Introduction to Small Unmanned Aerial Systems ("drones") and Associated Applications in STEM Explorations
The majority STEM faculty, professionals, & students are familiar with applying tools, software, and/or technology to test hypotheses, and can also metacognate on the importance of both the scientific method and the nuts & bolts of the STEM-related technique(s). Many examples have been highlighted by other researchers in geoscience education with, for example, earthquake seismic data, LiDAR, cone-penetrometer data, MODFLOW, etc. Not only are the details of the STEM field(s) associated with hypotheses critical, but also ensuring that any associated techniques in the hypothesis-testing process are not "black box" whereby the processes (and associated pitfalls) are not well understood.
Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS)—also known to the general public as drones—are one "black box" technology that does have clear and exciting Earth-science applications: capturing geological features at different scales, generating three-dimensional models, accessing remote locations, time-lapse analysis of geologic/anthropogenic processes, and other applications that can be used in Geoscience instruction or are the focus of research activities. To improve experimental design/application, however, a clear understanding of the practicalities & pitfalls of the technique should be acquired. In addition to the more familiar hardware/software learning curves associated with geoscience instruments, sUAS also require knowledge of (i) the associated intersection with government agencies (e.g., the Federal Aviation Administration, the Dept. of the Interior) related to licensing & waivers, (ii) personal safety & piloting skills, and (iii) weather limitations.
This workshop will be split in three components, one for each morning session, that will address sUAS-specific issues for avoiding the "black box" trap. There will be some topical overlap/synergy and time for discussion/questions related to the material from the previous day (exception the last day), but the general topics of each day will be:
Monday Morning. Logistics of sUAS/drones: Current laws, hardware, software, basic limitations
Tuesday Morning. Challenges for the pilot-in-command (PIC): Waivers, safety, weather, batteries, survey design, data acquisition
Wednesday Morning. Testing hypotheses in STEM Applications/Case Studies: Photos/Video, creation of photomosaics/orthomosaics, structure-from-motion (SfM) 3D models, time-lapse
This workshop is designed for unexperienced or novice users of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS; "drones"). No prior experience is required. Although topics covered may be insufficiently advanced for intermediate- to expert-sUAS users, they are nevertheless highly encouraged to participate and share their knowledge & experience during group work. [Important Note: There will be no flights of sUAS as part of this workshop—the focus is on everything else BUT learning to fly.]
- Discuss current sUAS/drone related laws in the United States
- Examine the nuts & bolts of hardware "tools of the trade" and explore related software
- Understand logistical constraints associated with sUAS/drone data acquisition
- Model one or more 3D objects using SfM (structure-from-motion) software (available to participants), and understand the associated limitations
- Develop sUAS/drone related hypotheses that could be used in STEM explorations
- Design sUAS/drone related experiments (or meta-experiments) that could be used in STEM explorations
The main topic of each day—as outlined in the Overview—will begin with a group discussion of objectives & goals. Following, topical materials will be presented with slides/handouts as necessary. Subsequently, working groups will be broken out to develop specific challenges related to the materials discussed, and each group will report out on major topics. Finally, we will close out each day with a summary of goals and discuss follow-up materials. An objective at the end of the three-day workshop will be for individuals to have concepts/outlines for one or more STEM-related experiments that may be incorporated into the classroom or research projects, utilizing a more complete understanding of benefits & constraints learned.