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Drone conference at SUNY ESF explores remote sensing in environmental settings

drone water sample.jpg
Scott Willis
/
WAER News
A drone takes a water sample from a pool on the ESF quad, with the goal of placing it in the bucket to the lower left. The demonstration simulates a scenario where a drone could take a sample from an in accessible body of water.

The increasing use of drones for remote sensing in environmental settings is the focus of a three-day conference at SUNY ESF. More than 150 professionals, students, teachers, and industry leaders have gathered from across the region and the country to share the latest research and development. Conference chair and ESF assistant professor of remote sensing engineering Bahram Salehi says water quality is his focus…

"We are looking at harmful algal blooms, or algae, on Skaneateles Lake. This is a pretty important lake for our area. It's a drinking water source."

Emmett Ientilucci is the conference co-chair and associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

"We do a lot of vegetation monitoring, the health and stress of crops, vineyards, and snap beans, using drone technology to image that."

drone water sample deposit.jpg
Scott Willis
/
WAER News
The water sample is successfully deposited in the bucket.

He says the conference is the ideal venue to get scientists and policy experts together to understand the potential and limits of drone technology. Professor Salehi says they’re working on expanding flight permissions with the FAA.

"As long as the drone disappears from your line of sight, that's illegal and dangerous. There's a concept called beyond visual line of sight for the remote areas of the Adirondacks and the north. We really need to fly much further, using this rotary drone but also so-called fixed drones, with wings like an airplane."

Beyond line of sight is being tested in the 50 mile drone corridor between Syracuse and Rome.

There are other challenges, too, including something as simple as batteries. RIT professor Ientilucci says operations can be limited by cost, duration, and ability to charge in hot temperatures.

"Everyone is super-ambitious about collecting, but sometimes logistics can be a showstopper. For us at the moment, these batteries are sort of a showstopper, trying to figure out how to address this, which nobody would think about, right?"

Yet another challenge is processing all the data collected by drones, not to mention satellites. Professor Salehi says getting it from raw form to something digestible by decisionmakers is part of their job, too.

"We have a tremendous amount of terabytes of data every hour. You have a process to get the information, but not all of it is necessary for a specific application or decision. It should reduced down to knowledge, after that, you need to cook it and put it on a nice plate in front of a governor or someone else."

The conference continues through Wednesday at SUNY ESF. It’s expanded from a one day event in 2016 to a three day annual workshop in order to cover the rapidly evolving field of a wide range of topics involving drones.

drone profs.jpg
Scott Willis
/
WAER News
RIT Associate Professor Emmett Ientilucci, left, and ESF Assistant Professor Bahram Salehi take time to talk to the media on the ESF quad.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.