Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

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


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


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


Remote physiological measurement might be very useful for biomedical diagnostics and monitoring. This study presents an efficient method for remotely measuring heart rate and respiratory rate from video captured by a hovering unmanned aerial vehicle (UVA). The proposed method estimates heart rate and respiratory rate based on the acquired signals obtained from video-photoplethysmography that are synchronous with cardiorespiratory activity.

Concepts: Estimator, Measurement, Pulse, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Unmanned vehicles


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


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of environmental and cognitive factors on the identification of targets from an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV). This was accomplished by manipulating obstruction, camouflage and familiarity of objects in the environment, while also measuring spatial ability. The effects of these variables on target identification were studied by measuring performance of participants that observed pre-recorded video from a 1:35 scaled military operations in urban terrain facility. Analyses indicated that a combination of camouflage and obstruction caused the most detrimental effects on performance, and that there were differences in the recognition of familiar and unfamiliar targets. Further analysis indicated that these detrimental effects could only be overcome with a combination of target familiarity and spatial ability. The findings highlight the degree to which environmental factors hinder performance and the need for a multidimensional approach for improving performance under these conditions. Areas in need of future research are also discussed. Practitioner Summary: Cognitive theory is applied to the problem of perception from UGVs. Results from an experimental study indicate that a combination of camouflage and obstruction caused the most detrimental effects on performance, with differences in the recognition of both familiar and unfamiliar targets. Familiarity and spatial ability interacted to predict the performance.

Concepts: Scientific method, Environment, Natural environment, Urban area, Dimension, Target Corporation, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Unmanned ground vehicle


Curb detection is an important research topic in environment perception, which is an essential part of unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) operations. In this paper, a new curb detection method using a 2D laser range finder in a semi-structured environment is presented. In the proposed method, firstly, a local Digital Elevation Map (DEM) is built using 2D sequential laser rangefinder data and vehicle state data in a dynamic environment and a probabilistic moving object deletion approach is proposed to cope with the effect of moving objects. Secondly, the curb candidate points are extracted based on the moving direction of the vehicle in the local DEM. Finally, the straight and curved curbs are detected by the Hough transform and the multi-model RANSAC algorithm, respectively. The proposed method can detect the curbs robustly in both static and typical dynamic environments. The proposed method has been verified in real vehicle experiments.

Concepts: Laser applications, Digital elevation model, LIDAR, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Laser rangefinder, Unmanned ground vehicle, Rangefinder