Dr. Anthony Cummings, an assistant professor of geospatial information sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, is deploying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in South America to see how farming is impacting the Amazon rainforest’s ecosystem.
Cummings sat down with leaders of an indigenous community in Guyana last summer to share the idea as part of an effort to help them conserve land, UT Dallas explains in a news release. Specifically, he wanted to use drones to capture images of the Makushi people’s Amazon rainforest farmland. The goal was to track and study how changes on their farming plots affect the ecosystem and wildlife over time.
Cummings, who is from Guyana, then obtained approval from the community and trained residents on building and flying UAVs.
“We showed them a video, put the parts on the table and said, ‘This is what you need to build a UAV,” Cummings says. “Within eight hours, we had two UAVs in our hands. They built the UAVs in the time it takes me to put one together.”
Yogita Karale, a PhD student at UT Dallas, studies the images back at the university.
“We are looking for changes over time,” Karale explains. “In one of the farm data maps I’m working on, vine plants are replaced by manioc, and tree logs are being moved. There are a lot of changes even within a time frame of a month in these areas.”
The university says Cummings hopes to expand the project further and continue to explore how the technology can be used to study indigenous lands to help residents sustain their livelihoods.
Cummings received a $5,000 grant from the advisory council of UT Dallas’ School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences for the project.