During my Master’s degree at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, I had the Marine, Estuarine and Environmental Science Fellowship. My research focused on the epiflora and epifauna of the bladderwrack Fucus distichus, under Dr. Madhumi Mitra, but I also worked with Dr. Abhijit Nagchaudhuri and Gabe Ladd on remote sensing and #PrecisionAgriculture work.

It is often difficult to capture data directly from the object you want to observe. Imagine collecting data manually from each plant in a corn or soybean field or temperature data from miles of ocean? It is impossible. But if we can look at the entire field from the air, we can collect much more data. If we use satellites, we can see the entire ocean. It just takes a change in #perspective.

Gabe and I were trained by Bob Harris in flying remote controlled airplanes and helicopters and we became pilots under the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

Practice work with a model helicopter at UMES
In this photo, I am preparing for takeoff with a remote controlled helicopter. the white spheres are attached to a star made of dowels that expands the landing area beyond the helicopter blades to make landing easier.

This was necessary so that we could fly remote controlled helicopters with digital cameras attached. Digital cameras and recording technology was not very high tech back then. For many of our flights, fixed wing aircraft (planes) had small battery powered cameras that transmitted back to a VHS recorder!

when we upgraded, we then had a 50,000 dollar helicopter and laptop set in the back of Gabe’s car. Two pilots had to be there for safety.

Rotomotion Helicopter ca 2006
This image shows a Rotomotion helicopter with with the remote control and several other digital components for communicating information back to us.

Ultimately, the helicopters flew over the crops and recorded the color of the crops. Those images were quilted together to make a map of the field. you could often tell sub par produce by yellowing leaves or a duller green. This was paired with data from the field when the tractors harvested they could tell where there was lower production from the beans or the number of ears of corn. In practical application now this would work really well for the Bahamas where it may be cheaper to buy a drone now and fly over your field, than to hire a person to walk through and assess your plants row by row. There is a much higher training cost for UAV pilots and the government of the Bahamas now has aviation laws related to flying drones.

I added an ESRI ArcGIS certificate to this, but that is for another blog post. I hope you enjoyed this look back into the past.

*Special note* I write my hashtags in #CamelCase when there are multiple words in the hashtag. Starting each word with a capital letter allows screen readers to recognize the words. Otherwise, it reads through the letters individually. This is a simple way to support the visually impaired community in your written work.