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Concept: Unmanned aerial vehicle


Despite concerted international effort to track and interpret shifts in the abundance and distribution of Adélie penguins, large populations continue to be identified. Here we report on a major hotspot of Adélie penguin abundance identified in the Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP). We present the first complete census of Pygoscelis spp. penguins in the Danger Islands, estimated from a multi-modal survey consisting of direct ground counts and computer-automated counts of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery. Our survey reveals that the Danger Islands host 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, more than the rest of AP region combined, and include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world. Our results validate the use of Landsat medium-resolution satellite imagery for the detection of new or unknown penguin colonies and highlight the utility of combining satellite imagery with ground and UAV surveys. The Danger Islands appear to have avoided recent declines documented on the Western AP and, because they are large and likely to remain an important hotspot for avian abundance under projected climate change, deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region.

Concepts: Climate change, Seabird, Penguin, Remote sensing, Antarctica, Aerial photography, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Unmanned vehicles


Advances in the development of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) have made possible the fabrication of cheap and small dimension accelerometers and gyroscopes, which are being used in many applications where the global positioning system (GPS) and the inertial navigation system (INS) integration is carried out, i.e., identifying track defects, terrestrial and pedestrian navigation, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), stabilization of many platforms, etc. Although these MEMS sensors are low-cost, they present different errors, which degrade the accuracy of the navigation systems in a short period of time. Therefore, a suitable modeling of these errors is necessary in order to minimize them and, consequently, improve the system performance. In this work, the most used techniques currently to analyze the stochastic errors that affect these sensors are shown and compared: we examine in detail the autocorrelation, the Allan variance (AV) and the power spectral density (PSD) techniques. Subsequently, an analysis and modeling of the inertial sensors, which combines autoregressive (AR) filters and wavelet de-noising, is also achieved. Since a low-cost INS (MEMS grade) presents error sources with short-term (high-frequency) and long-term (low-frequency) components, we introduce a method that compensates for these error terms by doing a complete analysis of Allan variance, wavelet de-nosing and the selection of the level of decomposition for a suitable combination between these techniques. Eventually, in order to assess the stochastic models obtained with these techniques, the Extended Kalman Filter (EKF) of a loosely-coupled GPS/INS integration strategy is augmented with different states. Results show a comparison between the proposed method and the traditional sensor error models under GPS signal blockages using real data collected in urban roadways.

Concepts: Estimation theory, Signal processing, Inertial navigation system, Accelerometer, Global Positioning System, Dead reckoning, Autocorrelation, Unmanned aerial vehicle


In the surveillance of interested regions by unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), system performance relies greatly on the motion control strategy of the UAV and the operation characteristics of the onboard sensors. This paper investigates the 2D path planning problem for the lightweight UAV synthetic aperture radar (SAR) system in an environment of multiple regions of interest (ROIs), the sizes of which are comparable to the radar swath width. Taking into account the special requirements of the SAR system on the motion of the platform, we model path planning for UAV SAR as a constrained multiobjective optimization problem (MOP). Based on the fact that the UAV route can be designed in the map image, an image-based path planner is proposed in this paper. First, the neighboring ROIs are merged by the morphological operation. Then, the parts of routes for data collection of the ROIs can be located according to the geometric features of the ROIs and the observation geometry of UAV SAR. Lastly, the route segments for ROIs surveillance are connected by a path planning algorithm named the sampling-based sparse A* search (SSAS) algorithm. Simulation experiments in real scenarios demonstrate that the proposed sensor-oriented path planner can improve the reconnaissance performance of lightweight UAV SAR greatly compared with the conventional zigzag path planner.

Concepts: Robotics, Radar, Automated planning and scheduling, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Aperture synthesis, Synthetic aperture radar, Surveillance aircraft


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) represent a new frontier in environmental research. Their use has the potential to revolutionise the field if they prove capable of improving data quality or the ease with which data are collected beyond traditional methods. We apply UAV technology to wildlife monitoring in tropical and polar environments and demonstrate that UAV-derived counts of colony nesting birds are an order of magnitude more precise than traditional ground counts. The increased count precision afforded by UAVs, along with their ability to survey hard-to-reach populations and places, will likely drive many wildlife monitoring projects that rely on population counts to transition from traditional methods to UAV technology. Careful consideration will be required to ensure the coherence of historic data sets with new UAV-derived data and we propose a method for determining the number of duplicated (concurrent UAV and ground counts) sampling points needed to achieve data compatibility.

Concepts: Accuracy and precision, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, MQ-1 Predator


The use of automated, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to deliver commercial packages is poised to become a new industry, significantly shifting energy use in the freight sector. Here we find the current practical range of multi-copters to be about 4 km with current battery technology, requiring a new network of urban warehouses or waystations as support. We show that, although drones consume less energy per package-km than delivery trucks, the additional warehouse energy required and the longer distances traveled by drones per package greatly increase the life-cycle impacts. Still, in most cases examined, the impacts of package delivery by small drone are lower than ground-based delivery. Results suggest that, if carefully deployed, drone-based delivery could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use in the freight sector. To realize the environmental benefits of drone delivery, regulators and firms should focus on minimizing extra warehousing and limiting the size of drones.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Transport, Natural gas, Greenhouse gas, Automobile, Pallet, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Warehouse


Regulations have allowed for increased unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations over the last decade, yet operations over people are still not permitted. The objective of this study was to estimate the range of injury risks to humans due to UAS impact. Three commercially-available UAS models that varied in mass (1.2-11 kg) were evaluated to estimate the range of risk associated with UAS-human interaction. Live flight and falling impact tests were conducted using an instrumented Hybrid III test dummy. On average, live flight tests were observed to be less severe than falling impact tests. The maximum risk of AIS 3+ injury associated with live flight tests was 11.6%, while several falling impact tests estimated risks exceeding 50%. Risk of injury was observed to increase with increasing UAS mass, and the larger models tested are not safe for operations over people in their current form. However, there is likely a subset of smaller UAS models that are safe to operate over people. Further, designs which redirect the UAS away from the head or deform upon impact transfer less energy and generate lower risk. These data represent a necessary impact testing foundation for future UAS regulations on operations over people.

Concepts: Mathematics, Risk, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned vehicles, Unmanned Aircraft System


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have the potential to revolutionize the way research is conducted in many scientific fields [1, 2]. UAVs can access remote or difficult terrain [3], collect large amounts of data for lower cost than traditional aerial methods, and facilitate observations of species that are wary of human presence [4]. Currently, despite large regulatory hurdles [5], UAVs are being deployed by researchers and conservationists to monitor threats to biodiversity [6], collect frequent aerial imagery [7-9], estimate population abundance [4, 10], and deter poaching [11]. Studies have examined the behavioral responses of wildlife to aircraft [12-20] (including UAVs [21]), but with the widespread increase in UAV flights, it is critical to understand whether UAVs act as stressors to wildlife and to quantify that impact. Biologger technology allows for the remote monitoring of stress responses in free-roaming individuals [22], and when linked to locational information, it can be used to determine events [19, 23, 24] or components of an animal’s environment [25] that elicit a physiological response not apparent based on behavior alone. We assessed effects of UAV flights on movements and heart rate responses of free-roaming American black bears. We observed consistently strong physiological responses but infrequent behavioral changes. All bears, including an individual denned for hibernation, responded to UAV flights with elevated heart rates, rising as much as 123 beats per minute above the pre-flight baseline. It is important to consider the additional stress on wildlife from UAV flights when developing regulations and best scientific practices.

Concepts: Physiology, Heart rate, American Black Bear, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned vehicles


Estimating animal populations is critical for wildlife management. Aerial surveys are used for generating population estimates, but can be hampered by cost, logistical complexity, and human risk. Additionally, human counts of organisms in aerial imagery can be tedious and subjective. Automated approaches show promise, but can be constrained by long setup times and difficulty discriminating animals in aggregations. We combine unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), thermal imagery and computer vision to improve traditional wildlife survey methods. During spring 2015, we flew fixed-wing UAS equipped with thermal sensors, imaging two grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) breeding colonies in eastern Canada. Human analysts counted and classified individual seals in imagery manually. Concurrently, an automated classification and detection algorithm discriminated seals based upon temperature, size, and shape of thermal signatures. Automated counts were within 95-98% of human estimates; at Saddle Island, the model estimated 894 seals compared to analyst counts of 913, and at Hay Island estimated 2188 seals compared to analysts' 2311. The algorithm improves upon shortcomings of computer vision by effectively recognizing seals in aggregations while keeping model setup time minimal. Our study illustrates how UAS, thermal imagery, and automated detection can be combined to efficiently collect population data critical to wildlife management.

Concepts: Population, Pinniped, Gray Seal, Massachusetts, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned Aircraft System


The use of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS; also known as “drones”) for professional and personal-leisure use is increasing enormously. UAS operate at low altitudes (<500 m) and in any terrain, thus they are susceptible to interact with local fauna, generating a new type of anthropogenic disturbance that has not been systematically evaluated. To address this gap, we performed a review of the existent literature about animals' responses to UAS flights and conducted a pooled analysis of the data to determine the probability and intensity of the disturbance, and to identify the factors influencing animals' reactions towards the small aircraft. We found that wildlife reactions depended on both the UAS attributes (flight pattern, engine type and size of aircraft) and the characteristics of animals themselves (type of animal, life-history stage and level of aggregation). Target-oriented flight patterns, larger UAS sizes, and fuel-powered (noisier) engines evoked the strongest reactions in wildlife. Animals during the non-breeding period and in large groups were more likely to show behavioral reactions to UAS, and birds are more prone to react than other taxa. We discuss the implications of these results in the context of wildlife disturbance and suggest guidelines for conservationists, users and manufacturers to minimize the impact of UAS. In addition, we propose that the legal framework needs to be adapted so that appropriate actions can be undertaken when wildlife is negatively affected by these emergent practices.

Concepts: Animal, Flight, Fixed-wing aircraft, Internal combustion engine, Aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned Aircraft System


Measurements of body size and mass are fundamental to pinniped population management and research. Manual measurements tend to be accurate but are invasive and logistically challenging to obtain. Ground-based photogrammetric techniques are less invasive, but inherent limitations make them impractical for many field applications. The recent proliferation of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in wildlife monitoring has provided a promising new platform for the photogrammetry of free-ranging pinnipeds. Leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) are an apex predator in coastal Antarctica whose body condition could be a valuable indicator of ecosystem health. We aerially surveyed leopard seals of known body size and mass to test the precision and accuracy of photogrammetry from a small UAS. Flights were conducted in January and February of 2013 and 2014 and 50 photogrammetric samples were obtained from 15 unrestrained seals. UAS-derived measurements of standard length were accurate to within 2.01 ± 1.06%, and paired comparisons with ground measurements were statistically indistinguishable. An allometric linear mixed effects model predicted leopard seal mass within 19.40 kg (4.4% error for a 440 kg seal). Photogrammetric measurements from a single, vertical image obtained using UAS provide a noninvasive approach for estimating the mass and body condition of pinnipeds that may be widely applicable.

Concepts: Measurement, Psychometrics, Accuracy and precision, Pinniped, Earless seal, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Antarctic krill, Leopard Seal