Embry-Riddle uses UAS as part of efforts to restore and preserve living shorelines



Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University recently flew its UAS along the shorelines and above the water at Menard-May Park in Edgewater, Florida to capture high-resolution images and video of this area of Mosquito Lagoon, which is part of the Indian River Lagoon system.

Organized and flown by faculty, staff and students from Embry-Riddle’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Science program, this aerial reconnaissance survey supports the Riverside Conservancy, which is a non-profit group dedicated to “restoring and preserving living shorelines in southeast Volusia County.”

“With a UAV, we can obtain an aerial perspective and create detailed imagery to determine where problems or inefficiencies may exist,” says John M. Robbins, Ph.D., associate professor and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program coordinator at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus. The UAS program provided volunteer support on this project.

Senior Dallas Slovak, vice president of Embry-Riddle’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technology student organization, was one of the people that joined Robbins on the survey. Slovak is working on obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and believes that this type of UAS work will allow him and other students to gain real-world experience, while also providing data “for a good cause.”

“I like to help the community this way because I can give someone the opportunity to have valuable data they may not otherwise be able to obtain,” Slovak says.

During the project, DJI Phantom 4 Pro UAS captured images that will be compiled into a “true scale, orthomosaic map” of overlapping images that will assist the Riverside Conservancy with a baseline view of the water’s edge in the hopes of mitigating future erosion.

According to Greg Wilson, Ph.D., chief science officer of the Riverside Conservancy, vegetation being planted will help to absorb pollution and provide habitat for fish species.

In its efforts to make the shorelines more resilient, the organization has been working with the City of Edgewater, the Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University Law School and Volusia County. Bethune-Cookman University is leading this planting project through a federal grant.

“We will be able to track with Embry-Riddle’s footage how successful these replanting projects are in stopping and preventing erosion and flood surge and hopefully even pollution uptake,” explains Kelli McGee, executive director of the Riverside Conservancy.

According to Embry-Riddle, this is the first of similar missions planned with the Riverside Conservancy for Embry-Riddle’s UAS students and professors. Robbins says that the projects provide students in the UAS program with hands-on skills, while also helping them meet service learning requirements, which can include an internship or working with a community organization.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to work with a community-based organization and assist with projects that are incredibly important to the preservation of our natural resources,” Robbins says.

Embry-Riddle's UAS Science program has been fairly active in helping local communities in Volusia County. The program has provided public safety officers with flight and safety training, and has also used UAS to assess damage in Daytona Beach last year after Hurricane Irma for the Daytona Beach Police Department.