RPAS (aka Drones): an emerging tool’s potential to democratise access to Earth and Environmental Sciences GIS data

Dr Janet Wyngaard1

1Centre for Research Computing, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, United States of America


Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems RPAS data collection is rapidly becoming a tool of the trade for many Earth and Environmental Scientists.  Recent improvements in flight capabilities spurred the rapid development of scientific RPAS sensor platforms.  These Scientific RPAS are capable of capturing multiple novel parameters, at spatial resolutions that were previously technically or economically impractical.  Further, the ability to fly RPAS reactively in responses to unpredictable events, is resulting in an equally notable increases in the temporal resolution of these data.  As a still maturing tool, there is currently no common approach to RPAS data capture procedures, processing, and management, leaving users to roll their own solutions.  This is both costly in development time, and can easily result in unknown or poor data: quality, publication rates, and reuse.

With the use of Scientific RPAS being at a key nascent stage, and the increasing momentum and research effort behind normalising Findable Accessible Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) – and where appropriate open – data, there is a unique opportunity before academia to normalise RPAS data as FAIR from the start.  The potential exists for RPAS – from academia, industry, and citizen scientists – to capture a FAIR river of geotagged data about our planet, at temporal and spatial resolutions that were previously unattainable.  To achieve any such river, however, will require significant community collaboration, technical effort, and careful consideration regarding appropriate implementations of the FAIR principles.  Academia is arguably, both the most incentivised and best positioned to pursue such an effort.


Jane Wyngaard is an Electronics Engineer with a passion for open source technologies that enable the Sciences. She holds an undergraduate degree in Mechatronics Engineering from the University of Cape Town South Africa, where she also completed her Doctorate focused on microprocessor design for Scientific High Performance Computing. Following a post-doctoral position building BigData tools for Earth Science at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she is now working at the Centre for Research Computing at the University of Notre Dame. There she is pursuing her research interests in building open source hardware and software tools for Earth and Environmental Science applications including; using Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems and edge computing for data capture, data management tools, and High Performance Computing resources.


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