The latest research buzz at UC Santa Cruz: Drones

Landscape image of Big Creek Reserve at UC Santa Cruz.

Drones — also called uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) — have potential applications in nearly every field of study, including performing surveys and collecting data for analyses of coastal and terrestrial ecosystems, animal populations and remote archaeological sites; managing agriculture; creating bird’s eye cinematography; and, importantly, serving as a platform to drive the development of new technology, such as remote sensing.

The UC DroneCamp is a five-day training program that, according to its website, “covers everything you need to know to use drones for mapping and field data collection.” Run in its initial five years by a threesome of partners, including UC Santa Cruz, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), and California State University, Monterey Bay, the Drone Camp, as of 2022, is managed jointly by UCANR and the CITRIS Initiative for Drone Education and Research (CIDER) at UC Santa Cruz.

Unique to the UCSC campus, CIDER officially launched in late 2021, with 20 undergraduate students accepted into its first Pilot-in-Training Mentorships in the winter quarter of 2022. The nine-week course of extramural instruction trains each student in the use of drone technology, including how to fly them; do photogrammetry and use software to create maps; and analyze imagery in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In addition to providing a $600 stipend, the mentorship also helps students earn the Federal Aviation Administration license needed to fly drones and covers the cost of the test. Once licensed, the students become eligible for volunteer and paid opportunities with CIDER to fly drones and process drone-derived data in support of campus research and commercial contracts.

Image courtesy of Becca Fenwick