MESA Lab’s New “Data Drones”

MESA Lab’s New “Data Drones”

Merced’s new Mechatronics, Embedded Systems and Automation (MESA) Lab is developing new UAVs  for environmental science, resource management, and precision agriculture applications.

They can collect high-resolution thermal, near infrared (NIR), and red-green-blue (RGB) standard video and imagery; identify plant species along with their nutrient and hydration levels (key measurements for monitoring both forests and crops); collect air quality samples; track pipelines and shale fracking sites for gas leaks; trace birds and other wide-ranging animals fitted with tracking devices; and even monitor biodiversity

Monitoring aquatic biodiversity is the focus of a new collaboration between Chen and UC Davis’s Michael Miller. The team plans to use Chen’s drones to conduct surveys of mountain rivers and other hard-to-reach aquatic ecosystems. Chen’s part of the job is to develop a UAV that can land on moving water (even in high winds and foul weather) and retrieve a small sample. Miller is honing a procedure that extracts and sorts DNA to identify all the species living in the body of water from which the sample is taken.

Outfitted with cameras and sensors that can give high-resolution readings of soil moisture, plant evapotranspiration rates, pest invasions, and other crop conditions, the drones can help track both the temporal and spatial differences of various portions of a farm so that farmers can deploy resources only when and where they are really needed.

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