FY14 Innovations in Teaching with Technology Awards

Proposal Title:
The Acquisition and Integration of Unpiloted Aerial Vehicles in Spatial Analyses Courses
Marc Linderman
Org Unit:
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Geographical and Sustainability Sciences
Funding Awarded:
What do you intend to do?
We seek to engage students in novel methods of spatial analysis through the use of Unpiloted Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology and a set of related research opportunities. UAVs are an ideal platform for collaborative learning, since they provide the opportunity to engage students across disciplines through start-to-finish projects and applications. Implementation of a UAV system requires collaborative student involvement in platform and payload design and operation, project planning, and post-processing and application of UAV acquired data. Furthermore, the new technology and potential job markets will likely entice students with diverse backgrounds to expand their learning into STEM-related methods and applications.
The Unpiloted Aerial Vehicle, or more broadly Unpiloted Aerial Systems (UAS), market is projected to more than double to more than $8 billion a year over the next decade. Commercial applications of UAVs are anticipated to be wide-ranging from precision agricultural and real estate marketing to infrastructure monitoring and traffic and pollution monitoring, among others. Governmental and humanitarian uses are anticipated to include rapid response to disasters, wildfire and meteorological monitoring, and wildlife and natural resource research. Current research and commercial-grade UAV platforms range from short-range user-controlled rotary wing designs to long-range automated drones. UAVs are already widely employed by the military outside of the US airspace for monitoring and combat as well as, more recently, for border security applications. The commercial market continues to be largely unrealized due to national aviation regulations. The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority is expected to release comprehensive rules on the commercial use of UAVs within the U.S. Similar changes in regulations are in place or expected worldwide. UAVs can be equipped with a variety of sensors. Video sensors are typically incorporated in UAV instruments for in situ viewing. Other optical instruments such as cameras and multispectral sensors have been employed for mapping and terrestrial monitoring. Additional active sensors such as lidar, and microwave systems are used to obtain range and distance measures. The incorporation of UAVs in commercial and civil applications provides opportunities for students to collect on-demand data for a wide variety of applications at scales that are otherwise cost prohibitive.
Videography can provide measures of dynamic systems such as river velocities and aerial images are essential to mapping and the spatial sciences as demonstrated by their wide use in products such as Google and Bing maps. UAS applications also allow rapid deployment, for example, for disaster response and on-demand data acquisition for precision agriculture. Advances in UAV systems include the integration of automated system controls to automate deployment, flight planning and control, and data acquisition. The integration of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Inertial Measurement Units (IMU), and sensors within the control system of UAVs allows automated flight planning and data acquisition. Inter-UAV communication is increasingly used for coordinated UAV deployment, or swarms, allowing for coordinated data collection. Machine learning incorporated within a distributed sensor system would also allow increased automated data collection based on data needs. UAS research and education opportunities, as such, extend across a variety of fields, from the natural and social sciences and humanities, to engineering and public health. Here, we will develop a course specific to UAV deployment and implementation and will also integrate the technology into existing courses. A summer course will be designed during the Spring 2014 semester to be offered during the 3-week Summer 2014 semester. The course will focus on the design and deployment of UAV platforms. The core of the course will be project-centered on the acquisition of aerial photographs for precision agriculture. This will require students to implement a start-to-finish project including understanding the design and operation of the platform, flight planning and data acquisition, post-processing to remove sensor distortions and geo-rectification of the imagery, and information creation from the data. Student groups will be assigned to the different stages of implementation allowing for interdisciplinary cooperation while requiring students to learn all aspects of deployment to acquisition. It is anticipated that the course will draw from across various disciplines.
Furthermore, the technology will be incorporated in a first-year seminar to be offered Fall 2014 titled Earth from Above focused on the acquisition and utilization of digital imagery to better understand environmental and social processes. The technology will also be incorporated in current courses including Introduction to Environmental Remote Sensing, Applications of Environmental Remote Sensing and used to promote REU projects.
How will it improve student learning?
The overall objective for the course will be to expose students to the start-to-finish application of UAV technology. It is anticipated that this process will engage students through UAV data acquisition and the use and application of spatial imagery. Specifically, students will learn the full process of information generation from flight planning to deployment to image processing. Specific learning objectives for the summer course will include introduction of students to payload and sensor design, flight planning, digital image processing and georectification procedures, and information extraction from digital images. Students will be expected to: 
  • recognize features and characteristics of common UAV platforms relevant to payload deployment, 
  • understand basic flight planning including sensor-earth geometry, spatial coordinate systems, and exterior sensor orientation, 
  • apply sensor correction models and image georectification using industry-standard software, and 
  • apply basic image processing to enhance aerial imagery and extract objective specific information. 
Given the inherent multi-disciplinarity of the course objective, students will be expected to develop one aspect of the overall course in further depth. Students will work in groups on a specific application (i.e., deployment, flight control, sensor development, image processing) to conduct the flight. However, implementation of the project will require students to integrate across groups (e.g., understand flight control for flight planning, sensor characteristics for information extraction). 
The first-year seminar will expose students to a variety of image acquisition methods, image interpretation, and information generation from remotely sensed data. UAV design and implementation will be introduced through demonstrations of the technology and discussion of the applications. Finally, we will disseminate information about the courses to student-veteran groups through the Veteran Student Office. Veterans of the armed forces are more likely than the student body at large to have worked with the technology, data, or applications related to UAVs and as such may be well positioned to contribute to various aspects of the course. In turn, we anticipate commercial applications of UAVs and spatial data will provide attractive opportunities in spatial applications and STEM related courses.
What resources will you need?
The Department of Geography houses several geographic information computational laboratories. The Geographic Information Systems Instructional Laboratory (GISIL), located in 243 JH, is equipped with 25 high-end networked workstations, instructional support technology (e.g., CRT projection) and an array of special purpose peripherals (e.g., large format printers and digitizers). Additional research laboratories within the department contain state-of-the-art machines running Windows 7, Windows 8, and Linux operating systems. Additional hardware includes a terrestrial lidar scanner (Leica C10 ScanStation), 20 handheld and 2 mapping-grade GPS units, 24 laptops, and 5 fully ruggedized laptops with sunlit readable screens. In addition, the department maintains two aerial imaging hyperspectral sensors. The Headwall Photonics sensors are mounted on a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza operated by the Operators Performance Laboratory. The dual sensors are capable of measuring 365 spectral bands across 400-1700nm at a spatial resolutions of 0.5 – 2m. Incorporating the imagery from across Iowa into the courses will provide students with unique opportunities to extend UAV applications to LiDAR data fusion, IMU/GPS pushbroom georectification, and image spectrometry applications. Support for image pre-processing, analysis, and ancillary data compilation include software for the collection and analysis of LiDAR data (Lidar Analyst and Leica Cyclone) and georectification of area frame and pushbroom sensors (Erdas Imagine, ENVI/IDL, and PARGE). Through site licensing agreements the department supports a variety of GIS, RS, spatial analytical, and statistical software programs including:
Software ...... Number of Seats
  • ArcGIS  ............... 40
  • Erdas Imagine ...... 30
  • Idris ..................... 30
  • Lidar Analyst ...... 30
  • Leica Cyclone ..... 30
  • ENVI/IDL ............ 3
  • PARGE ................ 1
In addition, we will request funding for two 3DR Iris autonomous quadcopter UAV platforms, two android tablets, and two GoPro black edition video/cameras (either Hero3 or Hero4 depending on availability). In addition, we will request hourly support for one student to conduct initial testing and lab course design during the Spring semester 2014. A list of Certificate of Authorization requests (public entity exemptions of FAA restrictions on the use of UAVs for commercial purposes) is attached here. We expect the exemption process to contain limited items of concern as we will be working within current hobbyist limitations (the FAA guidance of the use of UAVs by hobbyists including maximum ceiling of 400 feet above ground level, at a safe distance from populated areas and airports, and not for business purposes). The FAA is required to provide a timely response to COA requests and we anticipate completion during the Spring semester.
Rough estimate of costs
Equipment  ....  Quantity ....  Unit Total
1. 3D Robotics Iris quadcopter ...  2 ... $825 ...  $1650
  • a. RC Transmitter
  • b. Extra battery pack
  • c. Extra propellers
  • d. Arm replacement kit
  • e. Leg replacement kit
2. GoPro Hero3 Black edition  .....   2  .....  $400  .....  $800
3. Google Nexus 10  .....................   2  .....  $345 ......  $690
Student Hourly
1. 10 hrs/week 16 weeks @$12/hr (8.5% fringe) $2090
Total Requested $5230
Article number: 
Last updated: 
May 19, 2016