CMU advances Great Lakes research with unmanned helicopter, hyperspectral camera
30, 2014 - Central Michigan University has acquired the only unmanned
aerial vehicle in Michigan that is equipped with a hyperspectral camera -
a six-foot long helicopter - that will significantly advance research
imaging of Great Lakes wetlands.
The camera takes extremely high-resolution images in 334 colors compared to typical cameras that capture just three.
will use the semi-autonomous helicopter, controlled via computer or by
radio waves, to capture images of vegetation in wetlands throughout the
Great Lakes basin. Their work will continue the fight against invasive
species, protect rare plants and ultimately help to preserve and protect
the world's largest supply of fresh water.
"This allows us to
determine where and when we collect the data instead of relying on
archives from the federal government or commercial vendors," said Benjamin Heumann, director of CMU's Center for Geographic Information Science.
The center conducts research locally, regionally and internationally on
social and environmental issues that require spatial analysis.
"We now have the technology to do more than anyone else in the state in geomapping and analysis of wetland ecosystems," Heumann said. "Using the hyperspectral camera, we have the capability to collect aerial imagery with far greater precision than manned aircraft and satellite."
Now, instead of capturing an image that shows a tree, for example, the hyperspectral camera will show individual plant leaves throughout a wetland.
The helicopter flies at about 10 miles an hour and to the height of a 40-story building. It is flown under Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.
Unmanned aerial vehicles historically have been used in law enforcement and the military, although there are many civilian applications as well.
The technology also has applications in agriculture. Heumann recently spoke at the Michigan Advanced Aerial System Consortium about the potential use of UAVs for mapping disease, detecting weeds and monitoring fertilization and drought in the state's $5.72 billion field crops industry.
"We can help farmers better forecast crop yields," Heumann said. "By mapping disease, we can pinpoint more precisely where to target the spraying of pesticides, reducing costs to farmers and health hazards to humans and the environment."
Heumann and a team of graduate students will use the helicopter for the first time this spring to determine the biodiversity of a wetland area in Washtenaw County.
The unmanned aerial vehicle and the hyperspectral camera were purchased by the College of Science and Technology at a cost of $140,000.