Thanks to a new DJI Phantom 4 drone, the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s (UMI) Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory says mapping and photographing research areas has become a whole lot easier.
Dr. Chunzeng Wang, a UMPI professor of geology, GIS and environmental science, and Andrew Dolley, a UMPI GIS student, have been using the new technology this semester for a community service project in Mars Hill, Maine: taking aerial photos of Kings Grove Cemetery in order to create a plot map for the Mars Hill Town Office.
They also recently used the drone to obtain high-resolution aerial photos for Mantle Lake Park and UMPI cross-country trail mapping projects. The aerial photos will be used to develop the base maps for the projects.
“The use of drones has made the process of gathering data much easier, as well as higher in quality,” Dolley says. “In just an hour, we went out to Kings Grove Cemetery and gathered the data we needed. This is something that could have taken days if done without a drone – or done with very poor quality if we were just using Google Earth to collect visual data.”
Two students from Wang’s GIS II class, Seth Cote and Riley Hutchinson, used on-site Trimble GPS mapping methods and an on-screen digitizing method (tracing on a satellite image) to map part of the cemetery.
UMPI’s GIS Laboratory started the project in fall 2014 at the request of David Cyr, town manager of Mars Hill. The school says its GIS program emphasizes hand-on learning and real-world applications of geospatial technologies.
The DJI Phantom 4 was one of the new pieces of equipment the GIS Lab was able to purchase following a STEM bond approved by Maine voters in 2013. With this funding, the GIS Lab also received a considerable hardware and software upgrade. In total, the lab was able to add two new DJI Phantom 4 drones, says the university.
Wang says the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a game-changer in terms of how GIS professionals collect data and conduct mapping (as opposed to satellites and manned aircraft).
“It’s much easier to reach difficult locations with drones, which increases safety, and it allows GIS professionals to work more efficiently and quickly,” he comments. “In short, drones are among the most important technological advances in remote sensing and GIS.”