227 Exploring the use of Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Unmanned Quadcopters to Identify and Characterize Ice Surface Features

Monday, 23 January 2017
Colton Byers, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD; and A. A. Petty and J. P. Smith

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are widely used for inspection, surveying, and mapping applications and data collection in terrestrial-to-coastal-to-oceanic systems.  But large UAS systems are complicated and expensive and require advanced technological expertise for data post-processing. Recent advances in the capabilities of small, affordable, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as “drone” quadcopters, have opened up a wide range of possibilities for using COTS UAVs to perform missions and provide data products traditionally reserved for larger, more expensive UAS platforms.  Additionally, open source and/or affordable image processing software tools have simplified data post-processing.  Small UAV quadcopters have great potential for use in mapping and data collection in polar environments, especially at scales below the resolution of satellite or aircraft remote sensing systems.  

Today’s COTS UAV quadcopters have not been ruggedized to withstand harsh polar environments but a future application for UAV quadcopters that has great potential in polar science is the identification and characterization of small scale sea (and land) ice surface features such as ridges, snow drifts, cracks, leads, and rubble fields.  In this study, processed imagery collected by COTS UAV quadcopters during test surveys will be presented to evaluate the current potential for using COTS UAVs to identify and describe surface features over ice.  

Preliminary results suggest that current COTS UAV platforms can provide imagery of sufficient resolution to identify and even measure larger features over ice (e.g. sea ice pressure ridges), but are still limited in their ability to identify and quantify finer-scale surface roughness features.  The results, however, suggest future potential for COTS UAV deployment in polar research/operations as these platforms become more advanced in terms of control systems, power sources, sensor system integration, increased payload, and more ruggedized designs for employment in harsh environments.

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