As a part of the WU Libraries Graduate Research Fellowship Program, fellow Yuqi Li, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, collaborated with Data & GIS Services (DGS) and Earth and Planetary Sciences faculty member Alex Bradley to develop a data-collection workshop using a quadcopter or drone.
Both Li and Bradley had experience in using drones to collect aerial imagery of field sites. The workshop they developed took place over the course of a full day, and activities included permit processing, lab preparation, field preparation, data capture, post-processing, and data preservation.
The data collection occurred at Cahokia Mounds. About 10 students and faculty participated. From the DGS team, Jennifer Moore and Bill Winston worked with Li and Bradley to design and present the workshop. Li developed a library research guide to help others who are interested in employing the same methods. Results from the workshop included a set of aerial images of “Monk’s Mound” (the largest mound in the complex) and a 3D digital model of the mound built from the images. The Cahokia Mounds data can be found in Open Scholarship.
Drone operations of this kind are defined as “non-recreational” and are governed by an evolving array of rules at several levels. Washington University has a Drone Policy that applies to all faculty, staff, and students who wish to fly a drone on or off campus for research projects. The FAA has a pilot licensing process that requires passage of a written test demonstrating knowledge of where, when, and how drones can be operated in federal airspace. Bradley and Winston obtained Remote Pilot Certifications to meet these requirements. Finally, in order to fly at Cahokia Mounds, a permit was required from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Li is using a dataset he collected with a drone in China to create a hydrologic model of an ancient settlement. Bradley intends to capture aerial images of geologic field sites and to develop virtual tours of important geologic features that would be physically or economically difficult to visit. A workshop participant from the biology department uses a specially modified drone to capture samples as they study the impact of controlled burns on air quality. Drone use will increase as researchers exploit these tools to collect imagery and other types of remotely sensed data.